Activists climb aboard cutting machines hoping to stop removal of oak trees near Geneva
Activists trying to save a stand of 300-year-old bur oak trees near Geneva say crews began cutting them down Tuesday in what they allege is a violation of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit.
Hoping to stop the removal, Brian Maher sat atop the cutting machinery Tuesday morning. But by Tuesday afternoon, Kane County deputies arrived and made him and fellow protesters leave the property.
"Ten minutes later, the saws were going," Maher said. "At this point in time, it is a Hail Mary (pass), because I'm hearing them cutting down as we speak."
His wife, June Maher, said hundreds of trees had been cut down, but activists were unsure how many of them were the centuries-old bur oaks. There are other trees on the 10-acre wooded area, including ashes, hickories and elms, she said.
The woods sits within a 211-acre site that Oak Brook-based Midwest Industrial Funds wants to develop as an industrial park. The land is bounded by Route 38 on the north, Kautz Road on the east and Fabyan Parkway on the south.
The Mahers say construction of one of the proposed buildings would eliminate about 75 bur oak trees.
A representative of Midwest Industrial Funds could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
An Army Corps of Engineers' permit was issued in June 2020 to allow work that affects wetlands and stormwater mitigation. The permit restricts the removal of trees greater than 3 inches in diameter to between Oct. 1 and March 31, because they are summer homes to endangered northern long-eared bats.
The permit expired two months ago, and it is not clear if it was renewed. A representative of the Army Corps of Engineers' Chicago office was not immediately returned.
Midwest Industrial Funds also has a Kane County stormwater permit for the work, but it does not regulate what happens to the trees.
Brian Maher said he went to the property about 9 a.m. Tuesday when he heard the saws. After speaking with a site superintendent, he went to a cutting machine, asked the operator what would happen if he sat on one of its tracks, then proceeded to do so for about two hours.
The property sits in an unincorporated area of Kane County, which does not have a tree preservation ordinance for developments. Midwest Industrial Funds has applied to annex the land to Geneva, which does have a tree preservation ordinance, but no hearings on the request have been scheduled.
The Mahers say the native bur oaks are remnants of the presettlement Big Woods, which stretched from Aurora to Elgin.
The Mahers have a website, savegenevaoaks.com, dedicated to their efforts. There is also a change.org petition with more than 2,200 signatures.
• Shaw Local News Network reporter Brenda Schory contributed to this report.