Seneca residents file suit against barge company, state agencies asking IDNR to vacate permit

Residents say procedures were not followed in permitting process

Seneca residents, who live along the Illinois River, are filing a lawsuit in Grundy County court against state agencies and Illinois and Michigan Oil Company LLC to vacate a permit approved by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for a barge fleeting facility.

The barge fleeting facility permit was approved Nov. 9 by the IDNR for the south bank of the Illinois River near Seneca.

The proposal from Illinois and Michigan Oil of Joliet is for installation of mooring pins for barge fleeting, dredging and the construction of about 600 feet of steel sheet pile seawall along the area of 7700 W. Dupont Road.

Richard and Gloria Sims said their quality of life, the enjoyment of their riverside residence and their property values will suffer if the facility is built.

The Sims raised procedural objections to IDNR’s permit evaluation process, including denial of a public hearing, failure to obtain signed statements from owners whose access to the river will be affected by the project and failure to obtain the governor’s personal approval of the permit through his signature, all of which are statutory requirements, the Sims’ attorney said in court filings.

Both the IDNR and the governor are listed in the lawsuit filed by attorney John J. Foley of Maurides Foley Tabangay Turner and Agustin LLC.

The Sims also had issue with granting the permit, saying it was arbitrary and capricious, lacking any rational basis; unsupported by evidence supporting IDNR’s standards for issuing a permit; contrary to the public interest, health, safety, necessity and convenience; and contrary to the policy of the state to protect the natural sections of the river from encroachments, particularly industrial developments.

In its approval letter, the IDNR wrote that it was based on the determination the project will neither appreciably restrict the river’s carrying capacity nor adversely impact the public’s interest in the public body of water.

The company proposed to install 20 concrete-filled steel mooring pins at 400-foot intervals, which will create an upper section of 4,400 feet and a lower section of 2,800 feet, for an approximate fleeting capacity of 106 barges, which would be arranged in varying configurations.

The barges will be fleeted/moored from mile marker 255.7 downstream to mile marker 254.1, which is about 300 feet east of the Seneca Railroad drawbridge.

A small portion of the fleet will encroach into the navigation channel. In addition to the mooring pins, the upper and lower fleet areas will be dredged to a level of 10 feet.

A group of residents on the north bank of the Illinois River near Seneca had filed objections and requests for a public hearing from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The residents are objecting to the proposal based on the threat to the local ecology and environment of the forest and wetlands, the increased risk of flood damage downstream, the risk of unmoored barges potentially containing hazardous or toxic substances and increased congestion for commercial and recreational boating, among other concerns “from an already over-stressed river,” the residents’ lawyers said.

Roughly 21 signatures were collected asking for a public hearing on the proposed project.

The work would take place over a five-month time frame. It is unclear from the application what the barges might be transporting.

Derek Barichello

Derek is a Streator High and University of Illinois graduate. He worked at the Albany-Herald in Albany, Ga., and for Sauk Valley Media in Sterling, before returning to his hometown paper. He's now news editor for both the NewsTribune and The Times.