Barrington Hills Village President Robert Abboud said he was so disgusted with conditions he found at Insurance Auto Auctions' Wheeling site he shot photos and videos of what he saw, then filed a complaint with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. He called what he saw an "appalling lack of care for the environment."
The IEPA launched an investigation and said this week there were no significant issues at the Wheeling site, according to Kurt Niebergall, who manages the IEPA's office of community relations.
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Abboud insists pollution is occurring at the Wheeling location, regardless of the IEPA findings.
"It's clear that (IAA) is in the waste handling business and I think all you've got to do is look at the photos," Abboud said. "The IEPA, unfortunately, just appears to be a paper tiger here."
But an IAA official said there's no question about the results.
"IAA has fully cooperated with the IEPA and their on-site inspection is complete and speaks for itself," said Jeaneane O'Brien, IAA's vice president of marketing.
IAA hopes to sell wrecked vehicles to the highest bidder from a 12,000-square-foot building and 34 acres of outdoor storage north of Route 72 at Commonwealth Drive in a reclaimed gravel pit in East Dundee.
The site is near a Barrington Hills subdivision, where residents have said they fear leaking fluids from vehicles will contaminate groundwater. East Dundee has approved the plan concept but has yet to vote on its redevelopment agreement.
In January, Abboud said he and a village attorney visited IAA in Wheeling and saw several burned-out vehicles, other vehicles he said were leaking fluids and the large-scale pumping of what he said was polluted stormwater from an open stormwater drain to an off-site location.
He contacted Wheeling officials, but they said IAA was only in violation of dispersing water onto an adjacent property. Abboud said that's when he decided to contact the IEPA.
Abboud is questioning the IEPA's results after speaking to a top official at the IEPA this week. During that conversation, he said he learned inspectors didn't have free reign of the site, that IAA had more than a week to prepare for the inspection and that there was snow on the ground at the time of the inspection, which he said covered up evidence of pollution.
Niebergall disagrees with those statements.
There were actually two inspections on the site -- one Jan. 24 that was unannounced, and the second Feb. 5, Niebergall said.
The inspectors, who both have 25 years of experience, had complete access to the site on both visits, Niebergall said. The second visit was coordinated with IAA and its consultants so they could be on hand to answer the inspector's questions. The inspectors also used several instruments to make multiple readings around the site. The snow on the ground actually helped debunk one of Abboud's claims that fluids were leaking from the vehicles, as it allowed inspectors to clearly see that nothing was spilling onto the ground, Niebergall said.
"Our inspectors did not substantiate any of the complaint's claims and didn't find anything significant at the site," Niebergall said. "We're a scientific agency. We are driven by data and they went out to the site and made their own inspection. We're out there doing our job and protecting the environment, so, people have their opinions."
Now that the IEPA has spoken, Abboud said he'd still like to meet with East Dundee Village President Jerald Bartels to discuss the situation.
"I'm open to speak with him at anytime about what the issue is," Abboud said. "Mayor Bartels has to be ready to look at the facts of the case."
Bartels apparently has nothing to say to Abboud. He also isn't surprised Abboud is challenging the IEPA's expertise.
"It's another example of where Mr. Abboud always knows better," Bartels said. "I think it confirms that Wheeling, as well as East Dundee, are well equipped to make our own decisions without the approval or cross examination of Mr. Abboud."