Kadner: Shine some light on Robbins mine
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org October 11, 2013 10:15PM
The Robbins Community Plant will be used for part of the planned Quarry, October 11th, 2013, in Robbins. | Gary Middendorf/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 14, 2013 6:43AM
You would think everyone in the area would have to know about a plan to turn more than 20 percent of a south suburb into a rock quarry.
But the public has been given almost no information about an agreement between Robbins and a corporation for a 61-acre surface quarry, which would be followed by a 169-acre underground mine.
But that’s not all. There would be asphalt and ready-mix concrete plants and possibly a trucking terminal, multifamily housing and an equine therapeutic correction facility to be “referred to as a ranch and produce farm.”
More than 100 single-family homes would be taken by the project, along with some businesses, churches and the old Robbins incinerator.
Village officials have approached state Reps. Will Davis (D-Hazel Crest) and Robert Rita (D-Blue Island) about sponsoring quick-take legislation so the corporation behind the plan, ALM Resources LLC, can force people to sell their land.
Davis told me he has introduced a shell bill in the Illinois House to expedite the quick-take legislation.
“I told people at a meeting in Robbins this week that I couldn’t promise them that I wouldn’t introduce the bill in the veto session (of the Legislature, which begins Oct. 22),” Davis said. “That doesn’t mean I will do it. It means I’m not going to rule it out at this time.”
That meeting was called by community activists in Robbins who wanted to blow the whistle on the largest project in the south suburbs that hardly anyone had heard about.
“I not only have to represent the residents of Robbins, but the municipality, which means the mayor and the elected board,” Davis said. “If the mayor believes this is a good thing for the village, a good deal for the people, I have a responsibility to represent him.”
Rita, who said his House district includes “most of Robbins,” was more circumspect.
“I would not sponsor any legislation for quick-take unless there were public hearings or meetings, and everyone impacted by this plan had a chance to ask questions and get answers,” he said. “With the veto session beginning in about two weeks, I don’t think there’s enough time to do that.”
Rita said Robbins officials had briefed him on the plan and talked about the need for quick-take legislation but had not described how many homes would be taken or the plan’s wide-ranging impact on the village and beyond.
“With a project of this size, there would likely be an impact on traffic on neighboring suburbs, and we ought to consider that and any other impacts,” Rita said. “Everyone, including the bordering suburbs, should have a chance to speak out on the plan.”
But Rita and Davis emphasized that they understood Robbins’ financial predicament and the history of the incinerator project, which sparked opposition by neighboring towns that eventually resulted in the state withdrawing financial incentives, undermining the original developer of the incinerator.
While environmental activists and political leaders outside Robbins fear pollution, as one of the poorest suburbs in the nation Robbins needs money to pay its police officers and firefighters.
Gloria Scott, who owns a home in Robbins, has different concerns.
“They’re going to be blasting underground to make tunnels under people who are living in their houses,” Scott said. “What happens if the ground collapses? What happens if the blast breaks windows or causes other damage to those homes?
“Robbins is a historic community, one of the first black suburbs in the country, and no one is concerned about the people who live there. There was one meeting about this called by the village, and very few people knew about it.”
I tried repeatedly to contact Mayor Tyrone Ward and the village administrator without success Friday.
The mayor eventually sent an emailed statement that read: “We are obtaining more documents and information in hopes of negotiation and/or amending the existing agreement to one that would be more favorable to our residents. We will be rendering our decision based on the outcome of those deliberations, which we hope will be soon.”
But an agreement with ALM was signed in May by former Mayor Irene Brodie. Several people told me that Brodie, who did not seek re-election in April, had been less than 100 percent cognitively for many months before deciding not to run again.
“That’s something that would require a legal inquiry,” Davis told me when I mentioned the issue of Brodie’s mental capacity. “I don’t know anything about that.”
There’s little doubt that a project of this size could be the economic engine that Robbins needs. But there are serious questions as to whether the leadership in Robbins has done their due diligence on behalf of residents.
At the very least, extensive public hearings ought to be held, and village officials have to subject themselves to tough questions.
I said the same thing regarding Orland Park when its village officials were planning to subsidize construction of a large apartment building.
This is a much larger project, much more complex, and would directly impact thousands of people, inside and outside of Robbins.
Davis noted that before any quick-take legislation could be passed, the corporation needs to comply with a House rule requiring details about its plans.
I’m not satisfied with that. Davis is to be commended for meeting with local residents opposed to the project, but ALM needs to be accountable to the public.
Its agreement with Robbins has a clause saying that documents involved in this deal are not subject to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
Davis noted that as a home-rule municipality, Robbins could use its power of eminent domain to take the land needed for public benefit but for some reason has chosen to go through the state.
All I know for sure is that no one seems to know enough about this plan to answer questions.