The village of Barrington Hills and a citizens group have launched a campaign against Insurance Auto Auctions, which hopes to open a car storage and auction site near its border in East Dundee. Barrington Hills officials and residents say they fear the business will pollute the local water supply with toxic fluids leaking from old vehicles. They are asking East Dundee to think twice before allowing the business.
But East Dundee Village Administrator Bob Skurla accuses Barrington Hills of "significant fear mongering" and "all kinds of craziness."
Officials from Westchester-based Insurance Auto Auctions are in negotiations with East Dundee to develop the a 12,000-square-foot building and 34 acres of outdoor storage north of Route 72 at Commonwealth Drive, near the Spring Lake Forest Preserve that would back up to Barrington Hills' Pond Gate Farms subdivision -- where homes sell for up to $900,000.
The 30-year-old company secures and auctions off cars and other vehicles at the end of their lives and owns 162 facilities in North America. The proposed property in East Dundee lies near a reclaimed gravel mine and other industrial-related businesses.
"We are really truly looking forward to being a great new neighbor in East Dundee," said Jeanene O'Brien, vice president of IAA's marketing. "We are a very proud company that knows we are good environmental stewards of the areas that we occupy. We are not a junkyard."
Barrington Hills has put up significant resistance to the project, a movement O'Brien says is unprecedented.
Officials and residents have launched a letter-writing and mailing campaign, drafted a petition, spoken at East Dundee board meetings and formed their own Facebook group called Northwest Suburban Citizens for Clean Water. Several East Dundee residents also have joined the group.
The Barrington Area Council of Governments and Gregg Goslin, a member of the Cook County Board, also have voiced concerns about the plan.
Simply put, Skurla said, Barrington Hills doesn't want this project in their backyard and will do anything to keep it from coming to fruition.
He also pointed out that the same group thwarted a residential project East Dundee planned for the same area several years ago. He accuses the group of stretching the truth to kill this project.
"The environmental issues are being dramatized, expanded and led to be absolute truths in order to be a club to keep the project from ever being built," Skurla said. "I have absolutely no concerns that anything from this project is going to pollute either the village wells or any of the residential wells that are immediately adjacent to this site."
Barrington Hills commissioned a stormwater investigation that documents 69 "contaminants of concern" in the water near an Insurance Auto Auctions' location in Tukwila, Wash. The Washington State Department of Ecology and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are investigating a superfund site in nearby Seattle called the Lower Duwamish Waterway, according to IAA's 2011 annual report.
Of the 69 chemicals, 40 were found on the EPA's priority pollutants list, the Barrington Hills report said.
But those problems existed before Insurance Auto Auctions showed up, O'Brien said.
"The (Lower Duwamish Waterway) was designated in 2001 as a superfund site," she said. "The property that IAA leases, we did not lease until 2004. That property is not designated a superfund site, the adjacent waterway is."
Barrington Hills Village President Robert Abboud isn't sold.
"You don't have to be Fermi to understand that this is a problem," he said. "I am still skeptical that they (East Dundee leaders) appreciate the risk they're putting their residents and our residents into."
East Dundee commissioned a report of its own that used Barrington Hills' study and information from IAA. While it concluded the planned use "would create a source of potential contamination," it also said it doesn't have to be that way.
"The site poses challenges to construction and environmental stability, however, it is our opinion that (the) project can be constructed with the proper safeguards to protect the villages, the property owner, the operator, surrounding properties and resources," the study said. "The details of those safeguards and cost evaluation should be considered prior to continuing the site development." IAA met with the Illinois EPA Monday to discuss those safeguards and will send a report back to East Dundee later on this week. A final vote is expected by the end of this year.
East Dundee Village President Jerald Bartels remains committed to being a good neighbor to Barrington Hills -- but within reason.
"There comes a point where Barrington Hills doesn't get to tell us what to do, no more than East Dundee can tell them what to do," he said.