By ANTHONY BRINO/Illinois Statehouse News
SPRINGFIELD — Whether a sand mine should be permitted next to Starved Rock State Park, one of Illinois' best known natural areas, is the backdrop of a debate between business and environmental interests.
Midwest sand has become increasingly vital to America's booming oil and gas industry, used in the drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing.
The proposed 80-acre sand mine could be worth around $600 million over 10 years, said Tony Giordano, president of the Missouri-based Mississippi Sand LLC.
But environmental groups say the project would bring air and noise pollution and truck traffic and could disrupt the stream systems that flow through the park. The sandstone that the company would mine is part of the same rock formation that outcrops along the Illinois River.
The sand mine will be debated at a public hearing Wednesday, hosted by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
Giordano said the company will build a natural border around the site, near Illinois 71, before mining starts. As the company excavates the soil and rock above the sand, it will build hills around the site and plant native shrubs and trees.
"You will not see any other industrial users doing that," said Giordano.
Jack Darin, director of the Sierra Club Illinois chapter, said his group is open to seeing what kinds of safeguards Mississippi Sands proposes in its permits.
But "I think there are places where it's appropriate to mine sand," he said. "Next to Starved Rock isn't one of them."
Giordano admitted to the anticipated truck traffic and the erosion and stormwater runoff that would occur when the sand is washed with water. But in a decade or more, the area will naturally fill with water and become a lake.
Giordano said the project will bring about 60 jobs and tax revenue for the local government.
Starved Rock State Park is about 90 miles northwest of Champaign-Urbana in LaSalle County, where the county board approved the mine in January.
The company is seeking permits from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.