Ex-trustee’s vote for Robbins mine project questioned
By Casey Toner email@example.com January 12, 2014 8:24PM
Former Robbins Trustee Willie Carter | Photo courtesy of WLS-TV, Channel 7
Limestone is cheap
Jeff Mulzer, vice president of Mulzer Crushed Stone, said the mineral costs anywhere from $6 to $8 a ton.
“You are talking about a product that’s about the price of an Applebee’s appetizer,” Mulzer said.
His family has been in the limestone mining business for three generations, and their company operates five quarries in southern Indiana.
The product is used in asphalt, cement, toothpaste, chicken feed and antacid pills.
Mulzer estimated that it costs up to $10 million to start a limestone mine. A loader, a piece of heavy machinery used to haul the material, can cost $1 million by itself.
Still, it’s possible to make money in the limestone business, he said.
“If you run a quarry well, you can make a good living and make money for your family, but it’s not a gold mine,” Mulzer said.
He said location often determines a quarry’s profitability — the closer a limestone quarry is to processing plants, a major city or nearby projects, the more profitable it’s likely to be.
The Robbins redevelopment, which calls for concrete and asphalt factories in addition to the mine and quarry, is 20 blocks south of Chicago’s city limits as well as 2.5 miles away from Interstate 57, which will link to Interstate 294 via a new interchange by next fall.
The Robbins project also calls for constructing a port on the Calumet Sag Channel. Subhash Bhagwat, a retired resource economist for the Illinois State Geologic Survey, said the port would reduce transportation costs because barges are cheaper to run than a fleet of semi trucks.
Updated: February 14, 2014 6:02AM
For nearly three decades, former Robbins Trustee Willie Carter has been gobbling up land in the northern end of the village.
Now, it looks like a developer may need to pay him for those properties to create a controversial limestone mine — part of a massive redevelopment project that Carter voted on in May, during his final month on the village board.
Cara Smith, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s chief of communication and policy, criticized Carter’s role in the proposed project, calling it “akin to insider trading. By virtue of his position as trustee, he had access to information the general public did not. It’s exceptionally worrisome.”
Property records show that Carter owns 10 properties, half of which are vacant, in an area proposed for a 169-acre underground mine. Under its agreement with the village, the developer, ALM Resources, needs to buy the mineral rights from landowners to create the mine.
Additionally, Carter’s son, Kevin, runs a company that owns a home in the mine’s footprint and four vacant sites the developer would need to buy to establish a 100-acre industrial site, according to records. Carter gave his son’s company, KJC Properties, the five sites in 2004.
David Morrison, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said Carter’s potential financial interest in the mine project should have kept him from voting on the deal.
“If he were to ask me, I would say ‘recuse yourself, step aside and you should play no role at all in this,’ ” Morrison said.
Trustee Shantiel Simon, a vocal supporter of the redevelopment plan, said he was unsure whether Carter had declared that he owned the land before the board’s vote in May.
“Of course, there’s rules of conflicts of interests and things of that nature,” Simon said. “I’m pretty sure Trustee Carter can answer any questions you may have for him.”
Carter and his son could not be reached for comment on their land acquisition.
In total, Carter’s properties are a small fraction of the planned 320-acre redevelopment. But Smith said his dealings were big enough to catch the eye of sheriff’s police, who help patrol Robbins and are looking into Carter’s actions as part of a larger investigation into the controversial project that initially called for more than 50 homes and other properties to be acquired.
After the SouthtownStar revealed the redevelopment project in October, public outcry led the village to put it on hold in December, pending the completion of the police investigation, which is set to wrap up soon.
Dart launched his investigation after the SouthtownStar reported that Robbins had secretively entered into a deal with ALM Resources in May to develop the mine and a limestone quarry along with asphalt and concrete plants.
In a letter to Mayor Tyrone Ward, Dart called the redevelopment contract “vague, misleading and uncertain” and questioned political donations that ALM Resources made to Robbins’ officials.
ALM Resources wanted to acquire all the land through a “quick-take” process, using Robbins’ power of eminent domain, which allows it to take private property for the public good. Such a process requires legislative approval, and many residents had feared that such a bill could pass in the Legislature’s fall veto session but it did not.
Mineral rights are often purchased outright or leased from landowners, according to Subhash Bhagwat, a retired Illinois State Geologic Survey resource economist. In some deals, landowners get a percentage of the revenue from the limestone mined underneath their property, he said.
Reached by phone, ALM Resources managing partner Jim Louthen referred all requests for comments to company spokesman Paul Stewart.
“Quite frankly, I’m not overly shocked and surprised by it,” Stewart said of the properties owned by Carter and his son. “All the trustees live in the village, so there’s a probability the project may be where they live.”
Stewart said the village board would have approved the redevelopment project with a required majority even if Carter had recused himself from the vote in May.
“If he owns property above where the mine is going, we would have to negotiate with him as property owner as we did with everyone else,” Stewart said.