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Algonquin village president's bee joke offends some project opponents

H. Rick Bamman - hbamman@shawmedia.com
Silt fencing was turned into a protest sign near the intersection of Barrett Drive and Longmeadow Parkway in Algonquin. Algonquin mayor John Schmitt made light of the federal stop-work order.
H. Rick Bamman - hbamman@shawmedia.com Silt fencing was turned into a protest sign near the intersection of Barrett Drive and Longmeadow Parkway in Algonquin. Algonquin mayor John Schmitt made light of the federal stop-work order.

ALGONQUIN – A judge’s order to halt work on the Longmeadow Parkway road project over the possible presence of an endangered bumblebee has resulted in two headaches for Village President John Schmitt.

The first for the staunch supporter of the project, who has taken a lot of the heat from opponents, is the halt itself, and wondering whether the judge will extend the halt order this Friday.

The other is a Facebook post that Schmitt said was in self-deprecating fun but that opponents didn’t find funny.

In the wake of last week’s ruling, Schmitt changed his profile picture to his head attached to the body of a bee. He has since taken it down.

“I’d rather not talk about it. It was lighthearted, a self-deprecating picture of myself. It certainly wasn’t meant to be insulting. If anybody or any species took offense to it, I sincerely apologize, but I certainly didn’t do it to be insulting,” Schmitt said.

But to Laura Brehmer, an opponent of the project who was one of two candidates who rode that discontent to seats on the Village Board in the April 4 election, it wasn’t a gaffe so much as evidence that Schmitt and other officials don’t take opponents’ concerns seriously.

“I think it was a real error in judgment. It’s not a laughing matter,” Brehmer said.

Work on the parkway started near Randall Road in Algonquin on April 17, but ended several hours later after U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Coleman granted an emergency stop requested by opponents who said the planned route includes a habitat of the endangered rusty patched bumblebee.

Coleman’s order is in effect until Friday, when a status hearing is scheduled. Algonquin has turned over control of more than $3 million worth of land to the project, Schmitt said.

Plans call for a four-lane, 5.6-mile east-west corridor connecting Randall Road with Route 62, although it starts west of Randall Road at the intersection of Huntley and Boyer roads. The $115 million project, complete with a toll bridge over the Fox River, will go through Algonquin, Carpentersville and Barrington Hills, as well as unincorporated areas of Kane County.

But while proponents call the project a necessary measure to ease congestion, opponents include environmental groups and homeowners along the project path who allege it will decrease their quality of life.

Schmitt pointed to Friday night’s rescue of boaters stalled under the Route 62 bridge over the Fox River and headed for the nearby low-head dam as an example of why the parkway is needed.

The bridge was shut down for the duration of the rescue, Schmitt said, stranding motorists all the way back to Barrington Hills because of no nearby alternate route to cross.

“This village has done everything to make sure that this is not going to be injurious to the people of Algonquin, and it’s not going to be. This is a piece of infrastructure that will dramatically improve the quality of life for the village, and every community surrounding it,” Schmitt said.

However, opponent Janis Jasper, who like Brehmer won a village board seat, questions that assessment. Besides the new environmental development, she said the data supporting the need for the parkway is dated to an era when the area was growing, and not today. Population growth in the collar counties has either been flat or shrinking since the 2010 U.S. Census, and Illinois has been leading all 50 states in outmigration.

“There are so many things about this project that really need a second look – to just put a pause on it and say, ‘We have some new evidence now, and an endangered species, the rusty patched bumblebee, that we now need to look at,” Jasper said.

The Algonquin Village Board has a Committee of the Whole meeting set for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Village Hall, 2200 Harnish Drive. The Longmeadow Parkway issue is not on the board’s agenda for the meeting.

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