Kadner: Cook sheriff launches Robbins inquiry
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org October 28, 2013 6:26PM
Robbins residents hear from Illinois Department of Natural Resources blasting specialist Myron McCaskey Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, during a meeting about a redevelopment. | Casey Toner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 1, 2013 7:23AM
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s inspector general has launched an investigation into a planned development in Robbins to construct a limestone quarry that would take 20 to 30 percent of the suburb’s land through eminent domain.
Cara Smith, chief of policy and communications for Dart, said the sheriff’s department became concerned after reading stories about the development scheme in the SouthtownStar and received a complaint about the plan from a resident.
“We have initiated an investigation into the Robbins mine initiative to ensure the residents’ rights are protected and to ensure there is absolute transparency associated with every aspect of the project,” Smith stated in an email. “Of particular concern is an alleged donation by ALM Resources to a Robbins trustee.”
SouthtownStar staff writer Casey Toner revealed that ALM Resources, the project developer, donated $2,000 to the campaign of Robbins Trustee Shantiel Simon in March.
Earlier this month, the SouthtownStar revealed that Robbins had approached state legislators about introducing a bill in the fall veto session to allow quick-take authority to acquire homes and businesses for the planned development.
Robbins has entered into a public-private partnership agreement with Riverside-based ALM Resources to create a limestone quarry on 60 acres, followed by a 169-acre underground mine, asphalt and concrete plants and a therapy horse ranch. A waste-to-energy incinerator constructed in Robbins more than a decade ago would be part of the development.
Robbins would receive 5 percent of the sales from all the limestone mined, according to ALM, but in exchange one of the poorest municipalities in Illinois would turn over control of 320 acres to a private-public partnership called Robbins Resources LLC.
Hundreds of Robbins residents turned out for a community meeting last week, and many demanded that the village reconsider the deal. Many residents and public officials have said they were unaware of the extent of the project before newspaper stories appeared.
U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-1st), whose district includes Robbins, held a news conference at the home of a resident to oppose the plan. Rush called the pact with the developers a “dirty, dirty rotten deal.”
State Rep. Robert Rita (D-Blue Island) balked at introducing the quick-take bill after attending last week’s meeting, explaining that he wanted more details about the development.
Jim Louthen, ALM’s managing partner, has said the project, which could launch the quarry operation in 2014, would eventually raise more than $140 million in revenue from the sale of limestone and from sales and property taxes for Robbins.
At a public meeting last week, Louthen introduced a new partner in the project, Stephen Davis, president of Rib Mountain Aggregate, which would do the actual mining of the limestone.
Robbins residents raised concerns about the quick-take process and getting fair value for their homes, relocation assistance and payment for the mineral rights beneath their homes. But several said they didn’t want to move under any conditions and asked if the village and developers could force them out.
The short answer to that question was “yes.”
One woman said she feared that dust from the quarry operation and resulting truck traffic would cause respiratory problems in her children. A spokesman for the developer said federal and state agencies would regulate all environmental aspects of the quarry and mining operations.
ALM representatives said they would be meeting each Wednesday with residents at a community center to answer questions about the sale of the homes and the impact of the development on Robbins.
But the developers were less than forthcoming with SouthtownStar reporters during a meeting last week to discuss the plan.
When sheriff’s department officials called to request documents about the development, they were told to file a request under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act and talk to the village attorney, according to the department.
Dart created an office of inspector general in the sheriff’s department this year to assist suburban communities in investigating charges of corruption or mismanagement.
Dolton was the first to request the sheriff’s assistance after the administration of a newly elected mayor expressed fears that tax money had been misspent or stolen. Richton Park and Country Club Hills have since passed resolutions naming the sheriff’s office as the inspector general for their towns.
The sheriff’s department has been assisting Robbins police since January when about 200 untested rape kits, many from cases more than 20 years old, were found in the police evidence room.
In February, sheriff’s police also have been patrolling the streets of Robbins, assisting a police department that has a history of being short-staffed and has been accused of incompetence and indifference to crime. The mayor has refused to confirm it, but the police force consists mostly of part-time officers paid about $10 an hour, according to several sources.
As of 2010, the population of Robbins was 5,337, the median family household income was $24,145 and the per capita income was $9,837, according to U.S. Census data.
Much of the land in Robbins is vacant, and abandoned homes and businesses have become an economic drag for the suburb. For decades, it has attempted to attract economic development without much success.
The $383 million Robbins incinerator, originally designed to burn garbage from municipalities throughout the U.S., created a firestorm of political and environmental opposition, tax subsidies were withdrawn and it never became the economic engine that was envisioned.
Is the village government now capable of representing the interests of residents in a massive limestone quarry/mine project?
There isn’t a lot of confidence on the streets of Robbins.