- Associated Press - Sunday, April 30, 2017

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Lawmakers and environmentalists from parts of Illinois that rely on groundwater want tougher monitoring of porous rock quarries that are being “reclaimed” by filling them with construction waste, saying they want to regulate them to make sure drinking water doesn’t become contaminated with toxins.

On the other side are road builders, engineers and others in the construction business, who argue that Illinois has sufficient quarry regulations and additional testing would be too expensive.

The proposed rules appear stymied this spring. But Attorney General Lisa Madigan is in court, trying to force previously dismissed groundwater monitoring on the quarries. She argued in a state appellate court brief that testing underground aquifers is necessary to protect drinking water “from the ongoing threat posed by the placement of unchecked materials … directly into the water table.”

Pro-monitoring forces use Flint, Michigan, as a worst-case scenario, where river water was not treated to reduce corrosion for 18 months, leading lead to leach from old pipes and fixtures.

“That’s the danger,” said Rep. Margo McDermed, a Republican from limestone-rich Will County who is sponsoring legislation requiring groundwater monitoring around quarry receptacles. “That’s the concern of everyone who uses water nearby quarries: that we could be in a situation like that.”

Eighteen organizations - which have made $6 million in political contributions in the past decade - have lined up against the measure. More than once, the Pollution Control Board has rejected groundwater monitoring, the decision Madigan is contesting.

Legislation similar to McDermed’s, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Emily McAsey of Lockport, was shunted into a subcommittee for review last week, substantially weakening its chances for passage before the Legislature adjourns May 31. The Sierra Club and other key environmental groups support the plan.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency calls it “clean construction-demolition debris.” The idea is that concrete free of steel reinforcement bars, rock, stone, brick and asphalt from sites where buildings are going up or being razed is “clean” and can be dumped in spent rock quarries. Requirements that professionals examine the waste have been put in place in the past decade, but decades of unregulated dumping occurred before that.

McAsey’s and McDermed’s home, Will County, has nine quarries with EPA permits to handle demolition waste, with up to nine more that could be soon, said Brent Hassert, a former Republican lawmaker who lobbies for the county.

The Illinois EPA lists 34 EPA-permitted construction-debris quarries, but when The Associated Press asked the agency for the sites handling the most demolition waste, spokeswoman Kim Biggs said the top three are in Lyons, in Cook County; and two Kane County sites, in South Elgin and Bartlett. None is on the agency’s list. Biggs then said the list is incomplete and would be removed until it’s corrected.

Illinois has the most stringent rules for quarry reclamation in the nation, according to Dan Eichholz, president of the Illinois Association of Aggregate Producers. The waste material must come from a site where previous land use has been determined and verified that it’s not part of a toxic-cleanup project. A professional engineer or geologist must test the soil at the site and determine that contaminants do not exceed allowed levels. At the quarry, a detector is used to check for suspicious odors.

The professionals used in the screening process are hired by the landowner or hauler, Eichholz said, but “repercussions are severe” if they don’t comply. And the receiving site can reject any dump truck arriving with waste.

“Any load that’s suspicious has to be rejected,” Eichholz said. “These folks, it’s their property. They have plenty of motivation to make sure no contaminated material comes in.”

Environment Committee Chairman Dan Beiser, an Alton Democrat, said he sent McAsey’s bill to subcommittee to await Madigan’s legal action. Beiser has his own legislation - which was approved by the House and is awaiting Senate action - that would release from permitting requirements a quarry-waste operator who transfers part of a quarry-disposal site to someone else.

Eichholz said groundwater monitoring would be cost-prohibitive. “It’s not a high-dollar type of business and the whole point was, it’s a sustainable way to bringing material back to where it originated” and save the higher cost of landfill burial, Eichholz said.

Dean Olson, director of the resource recovery and energy division for the Will County Land Use Department, said based on his experience, drilling a monitoring well costs just over $2,000 and each time sampling of water is done, the cost is less than $500.

“The destruction of our drinking water sources is such a terrible risk that whatever the cost, it is well worth it,” McAsey said, to ensure “we’re not in a situation where something terrible has happened and it’s too late to un-ring that bell.”

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The bill is HB1454.

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Contact Political Writer John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor. His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/john-oconnor.


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