Cook County Board commissioners approved a proposal Wednesday to build a 25-acre commercial composting facility, despite continued opposition from nearby Des Plaines and Mount Prospect residents.
Des Plaines' formal opposition to the Patriot Acres LLC proposal for the facility to operate near Oakton Community College at 9800 E. Central Road forced the need for a 13-vote supermajority by commissioners. The final vote was 13-2, with one suburban commissioner absent and another who recused himself.
The vote ended months of hearings and debate when leaders from surrounding communities voiced opposition to the developers' plan to compost food scrap and yard waste at the facility.
That opposition continued Wednesday as dozens of people spoke before the vote. Some residents complained of odors and other potential nuisances, but supporters argued the project is safe and environmentally progressive.
Patriot Acres plans to convert up to 200,000 cubic yards, or roughly 16,000 dump trucks, per year of food scraps and yard trimmings into compost for sale to landscaping businesses or plant nurseries.
Eve Pytel, a director at the nonprofit environmental group Delta Institute, argued composting is important because organic materials are the heaviest part of solid waste in landfills. The proposed facility will create jobs while mitigating environmental harm, Pytel said.
"Compost facilities are critically important to properly manage this part of the waste stream," she said.
Brian Critchlow, who managed a defunct composting facility in Waukegan called Nu Earth Organics, warned odors and leaching at composting facilities are difficult to control.
"It's the residents, it's the business in the area that suffer," Critchlow said. "It's a hard business."
Commissioners Sean Morrison, whose district includes a part of Des Plaines, and Gregg Goslin voted against the proposal. Commissioner Peter Silvestri, whose district includes the site, recused himself because he has worked for the law firm representing the developer. Suburban Commissioner Tim Schneider was absent.
The proposed site is on a 160-acre parcel owned by the Archdiocese of Chicago that was previously a landfill.
Camp Pine Woods of the Forest Preserves of Cook County borders the land to the north and east, while the Des Plaines River is on the western edge. The Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County operates a transfer station on the opposite side of the river.
The project is not a done deal. Patriot Acres must gain approvals from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. And Des Plaines city leaders are mulling whether legal action against the developer is possible, City Manager Mike Bartholomew said.
If the project progresses as planned, the facility could begin operating by the fall, developers said.
Matthew Smarjesse, a co-partner in the development, argued the operation is the most environmentally conscious project that could be developed on a property zoned for industrial use.
"This project means a lot to me," Smarjesse said. "It's not based solely on financial desires but to create something better for the community."