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Last updated 9:25PM ET
August 14, 2018
Local Commentaries
Local Commentaries
Guest Commentary - Jeff Biggers
Jeff Biggers
(wium) - The Illinois Department of Natural Resources will host a public hearing in the town of Industry Wednesday evening (January 28), on the renewal of a strip mining permit in the Great Chandler Timbers, one of the last remaining sections of old forests in the area. The issue at hand is the 5th renewal of the permit, despite major concerns by local people in the area.

In 1819, just a year after the ratification of our Illinois state constitution, the first pioneers established the Agricultural Society of Illinois. One of their first rules was to get beyond the old habit of destroying our forests. Gov. Edward Coles declared in 1821, we must deplore the destruction of our timber, and the creation of miasmic swamps, at the expense of our future.

Nearly two hundred years later, those words still contain a lot of truth. Less than 16 percent of our forests are still standing in Illinois. Here in our areas, out of the once 5,000 acres of old growth, the Chandler Timbers are the last forests in the area with ancient maples, oaks, and black walnuts trees, and iron woods, willows and wild cherry and thorn apples.

Three years ago, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn launched an online petition to stop the stripmining of areas around Banner, in Fulton County. Quinn declared the Banner Marsh to be a vital habitat for American Bald Eagles, American White Pelicans, Great Blue Herons, ospreys and other wildlife.

In this period of crisis in Springfield, it would make sense to suspend any mining permit, until a new administration under Pat Quinn comes into power.

For local people in Industry, Macomb and throughout McDonough County, the Great Chandler Timbers are also natural heritage sites that need to be protected and used for local benefit, not get destroyed. Like the Banner Marsh, an amazing array of endangered birds and wildlife inhabit the woods. In fact, the US Fish and Wildlife Agency has issued a statement with many unanswered questions about this strip mine.

Instead of a strip mine, the Chandler Timbers area could be a valuable place for a recreational lake, hunting grounds with whitetail deer and turkey. The fertile farmland on the outskirts could continue to raise corn, and even serve as sites for an industrial wind farm.

As we witnessed in December with the coal ash pond disaster in Tennessee, coal mining is a dirty business. As someone from the coal regions of southern Illinois, I have watched stripmining destroy our waterways, farms and rural areas. I also understand the human costs; my grandfather was a coal miner, who struggled with black lung disease, and barely survived a cave-in. Therefore, I have nothing against coal miners.

Once coal is stripped and processed, then it must be trucked to transportation depots. This means our two lane roads in McDonough County, from the slick winter months through the busy fall of corn combines, will face loaded down coal haulers.

While there is no ash pond at this site near Industry, of course the process of containing the toxic pollution from a strip mine's sediment pond and discharge is also in question. Mining waste and discharge from the strip mine, according to state agency surveys, are already contaminating the groundwater and Grindstone Creek, a historic watershed that served the first mills in the region. Sediment ponds and mining waste contain iron, sulfur and toxic minerals. Wastewater discharges and restricted stream flow wipe out fish and aquatic life. More so, Grindstone Creek runs into Camp Creek, a major site for historic Native American occupation, and then those creeks run into the Lamoine River.

This is not just a cause for environmentalists---whoever those people are. If you drink water, if you fish and hunt, if you farm and garden, if you drive on the roads of McDonough County, then you should be concerned about this strip mine. Because in truth, we all live downstream.

Everyone is invited to the public meeting at the Industry elementary School Wednesday night (January 28) at 6:00. The future of the Great Chander Timbers and our McDonough County are at stake.
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