As the parking lot filled, Blackberry Township officials put out more folding chairs to accommodate the turnout.
This would be a discussion about a larger concern than usual for the small Kane County community. And yet it was all too familiar for residents who said they’ve coughed through dust clouds, been awakened late at night by vibrating heavy machinery and watched the giant trucks barrel downhill and blow through traffic lights for years.
The question on all the residents’ minds was universal: Was it about to get even worse?
The Kane County Board will vote on a proposal that could open the door to 24/7 mining operations at any or all of the 12 quarries in the area. Each facility would still need to apply for a special permit to work beyond the 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. limits on hours of operation on the books now. The policy the county board will consider Tuesday will open the door to that possibility for the first time.
County board members Dale Berman and Rick Williams met with residents who live near the existing sand and gravel mine they refer to as the LaFarge operation along Route 47 near Elburn. Both board members agreed LaFarge is the entity pushing for the change to the county code.
“LaFarge has taken a position that there is a demand for gravel they can’t keep up with,” Williams told the audience.
That could mean expanding operations an additional three or four hours a day, if the county board agrees.
“The burden would be on LaFarge to show whatever they are going to do isn’t going to negatively affect people,” Williams said.
Residents at the meeting found that to be an impossible notion. Every person in the room took turns telling the board members about a variety of noise, dust, traffic and safety concerns they continue to have with the existing LaFarge operation. The idea of anything that could exasperate those concerns sent some into fits of shouting.
“If you don’t live across the street from this damn thing you have no idea,” shouted someone in the crowd.
Carol Green Clulow said residents met with former county board members back in 2019 with concerns about an expansion of the LaFarge footprint, which has since been completed. There were promises then about less noise and overall nuisance stemming from the operations. Instead of getting better, everything got worse.
“I don’t believe any promises they make, and neither should the board,” Clulow said.
LaFarge officials were not present at the meeting. County officials said they don’t expect LaFarge to speak about the pending code changes unless the board approves the code change Tuesday, allowing them to make the special permit application.
Residents also said a big reason why they are frustrated is there doesn’t seem to be any way to hold LaFarge accountable for what the residents see as problematic operations. Residents said they’ve tried calling the police many times, but it can take up to 40 minutes for a sheriff’s deputy to respond. And it’s only been in the last couple of months that the county hired two code enforcement officers that Berman and Williams said should be the main contacts for residents who experience problems with mining operations.
Williams also suggested an enhancement to the fines attached to code violations may be in order. Or, if the violations are persistent and flagrant, Williams said the county might consider a legal injunction to halt operations at the facility.
Residents said they will appoint someone from their group to attend the Tuesday meeting and share the concerns with the larger, 24-member county board prior to the vote on the code change.