Mayor's humor not welcomed in long-running road battle

  • Algonquin Village President John Schmitt posted, then deleted, this photo of himself, referencing the endangered bumblebees that have halted work on Longmeadow Parkway.

    Algonquin Village President John Schmitt posted, then deleted, this photo of himself, referencing the endangered bumblebees that have halted work on Longmeadow Parkway.

 
 
Updated 4/23/2017 7:57 AM

John Schmitt fell into the proverbial hornet's nest with what he thought was a bit of self-deprecating humor.

After a federal judge ordered a stop-work order on the controversial Longmeadow Parkway project because of the discovery of an endangered bumblebee potentially in the road's path, Schmitt changed his Facebook profile picture. The Algonquin village president, an ardent supporter of the project, posted a head shot of himself attached to the body of a bee.

 

Reaction was swift and strong on the StopLongmeadow website, which reposted Schmitt's photo with this message:

"He seems to think it's funny to care about an endangered species. We are going to fight this attitude because the rusty-patched bumble bee is on the brink of extinction and its existence is important to us. We're fighting for our quality of life, our public lands, and now the very survival of a species."

Then, the criticism of the mayor got personal: "It's not funny, John Schmitt. Only the fact that you are supposed to be a public servant is funny. Not joyful funny -- tragic funny."

Just as quickly, Schmitt deleted the photo. When I asked him about it, he said: "I have never nor do I ever want to insult either the environmental issue nor the residents using the bees to delay the project. I apologize for my insensitivity and pulled it down because some did not see the humor."

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Schmitt did not, however, apologize for his support of the project, which he and others say will provide a much-needed way to cross the Fox River in Algonquin, while creating new tax-generating businesses and jobs.

It's no piddling project. The cost is $135 million for the 5.6-mile widening of Longmeadow Parkway/Bolz Road and construction of a bridge, supported by tolls estimated at 75 cents. Proponents have noted the project was announced 30 years ago, received scores of government approval and has been aired in more than 100 public hearings.

But three decades ago, the property wasn't much more than vacant land. Since then, scores of houses have been built, many of which will be brushed by the expanded roadway. All that development came in the shadow of the long-languishing project, and many say no one believed the new road ever would be built. But a 2010 approval by the Kane County Board seems to have awakened a slumbering giant. And there's been no turning back -- by either side.

So while $30 million worth of engineering is finished, more approvals given, including the construction that was at least temporarily halted last week, the Longmeadow foes have made their mark, including the election of a Longmeadow opponent to the county board in November, while 8,641 Dundee Township residents last March voted against the project (3,337 supported it) in an advisory referendum.

Nothing funny about all that, but the reaction to Schmitt poking as much fun at himself as anything else seems a little ... not joyful.

jdavis@dailyherald.com

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