Abrams Environmental Law Clinic Files Lawsuit to Protect Starved Rock State Park

December 21, 2012

On December 12th, on behalf of the Sierra Club, Prairie Rivers Network, and Openlands, the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic filed a complaint in Circuit Court in Springfield, Illinois demanding judicial review of a massive open pit silica sand mining permit granted to Mississippi Sand, LLC by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Office of Mines and Minerals. The complaint alleges that IDNR failed to protect Starved Rock State Park—one of the most beautiful and popular state parks in Illinois—when it approved an 80-acre open pit mine to harvest and process silica sand for use in the hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) natural gas extraction process. The permit clears the way for Mississippi Sand, LLC to start blasting the sand, mining it to about 80 feet over the span of 10 years, leaving a large reclamation lake on the site.  The lawsuit challenging the permit recently received the endorsement of the editorial board of the Chicago Sun Times.
About the Complaint
The 29-page complaint alleges that the Office of Mines and Minerals failed to follow state law in reviewing Mississippi Sand, LLC’s application for a mining permit. Mississippi Sand provided incomplete and inaccurate information to the Office of Mines and Minerals. The Office of Mines and Minerals approved the company’s reclamation plan and map, even though Mississippi Sand couldn’t follow certain parts of it within the approved mining area. The Office of Mines and Minerals didn’t fully consider 13 factors that address natural resource impacts, including the short and long term impact of the proposed mining on vegetation, wildlife, fish, land use, land values, local tax base, the economy of the region and the State, employment opportunities, air pollution, water pollution, soil contamination, noise pollution, and drainage, as required by the Surface Mined Land Conservation and Reclamation Act and its regulations. The Office of Realty and Environmental Planning didn’t perform a proper natural areas consultation under the Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act. As a result the Office of Mines and Minerals made an arbitrary and capricious decision by issuing the permit. For this reason, Sierra Club, Prairie Rivers Network, and Openlands are asking the Sangamon County Court to void the mining permit.
About the Potential Effects of the Mine
The operation would erode the natural value of the park for both people and wildlife, as well as tarnish a major driver of the local economy. The mine will pump up to five million gallons a day of water from its operation and stormwater into Horseshoe Creek, which runs through Starved Rock State Park. Introducing that much water will likely cause damage to Horseshoe Creek and destroy its low-flow ecosystem.
Despite their concerns, local residents were not allowed an opportunity to speak formally with the Office of Mines and Minerals. In not considering the opinions and impacts to local citizens, the Office of Mines and Minerals neglected to consider the full, long-term impacts for this mine with respect to how it will impact adjacent landowners and local businesses that depend on the health and natural beauty of the area.
“The granting of this permit highlights the Illinois Department of Natural Resources' inherently conflicting roles of promoting conservation and permitting natural resource extraction,” said Elliot Brinkman, Habitat Conservation Specialist with Prairie Rivers Network. “Until these roles are reconciled, we can expect to see IDNR’s Office of Mines and Minerals continue to allow risky mining projects that jeopardize the special places and resources the Department holds in public trust.”
“If the permitting process followed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources can fail at Starved Rock State Park, our premier state park, it can fail anywhere,” said Openlands president Jerry Adelmann. “IDNR has long been, and will continue to be, a valued partner of Openlands and many other conservation organizations in Illinois. However, in granting this permit, the Office of Mines and Minerals did not adhere to procedures required by state law, and this forced us to stand up for what we believe through this action.”
“Starved Rock is one of the crown jewels of Illinois’ state park system, and we count on IDNR to protect it for future generations,” said Jack Darin, Director of Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter. “It is not only a very special place to people from all over Illinois, but an important economic asset for Illinois River valley communities.”
The plaintiffs are represented by Mark Templeton and students of the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic of the University of Chicago Law School, Albert Ettinger (Chicago), and Eric Schwing (Springfield).