Riley Township officials question Marengo's gravel pit expertise

MARENGO – Riley Township officials recently peppered Marengo officials with questions and concerns about the city’s inexperience with regulating the gravel pits along Route 23 that the city soon could control.

The gravel pits are included in two of the three annexation deals that were formally presented to the public during a City Council meeting Monday. The deals are a part of a broader city effort to extend Marengo’s limits to Interstate 90 and through Riley Township in hopes of securing a full tollway interchange that would spur development.

Township officials such as Supervisor Karen Schnable and Trustee Cathy Johnson dominated the public hearing with questions about the city’s knowledge of the gravel pits, as well as concerns that zoning changes included in the annexation deals would give up the agricultural area to manufacturers.

“The gravel pits are going to be taken out of the county regulations and put into the city regulations, and I’m concerned the city isn’t prepared for that,” Schnable said. “They have never done this before.”

More than 20 people attended the public hearings Monday on the three deals that would add about 1,340 acres into Marengo along Route 23.

The City Council will vote on the deals at a March 25 meeting, leaving 1,160 acres closer to I-90 for the city to negotiate and annex in the coming weeks.
The gravel pits are within nearly 600 acres involving two annexation deals between the
city and VCNA Prairie and A.R. Land Co.

Facing city officials Monday, Schnable questioned safety provisions in both agreements, fearing that city may not have the knowhow to regulate the mining areas and prevent contamination of nearby groundwater used by residents.

Johnson echoed Schnable’s concerns, arguing that any industrial development in the area easily could cause contamination.

She warned city officials that agricultural businesses in Illinois generally have the political firepower to resist stronger regulations and lobby for permanent zoning changes that allow for indefinite mining.

“We want you to be in control, not them,” Johnson said. “It worries me because I’m not sure you are ready to take this on.”

In defense, City Administrator Gary Boden said numerous communities in McHenry County, including Harvard, have been successfully regulating gravel pits.
The potential annexation deals also require miners to get a special-use permit for the pits that are effective for 20 years at a time.

The city plans to adopt the county’s environmental regulations that already have governed the pits for years, Boden said. Marengo still would have to train an employee or hire a contractor to enforce the regulations, but Boden said the city has the resources to do so.

“This is not new news for us,” Boden said. “The environment is different with dealing with sand and gravel pits, but this is not a foreign subject to us.”

The public presence did influence the council to delay a vote on the third, and largest, annexation deal that involves 750 acres north of Grange Road and east of Blissdale Road.

The council could have approved the deal Monday, since it didn’t include zoning changes. But aldermen postponed the vote, 6-1, until March 25 to give them more time to review the three deals and weigh public input.

The final vote on the city’s first three annexation deals now will come four days after the city’s zoning commission meets March 21 to endorse special-use permits from the gravel miners.