The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is caught between Starved Rock and a hard place, as it weighs a plan that could affect the fate of one of the state's most beloved parks.
Earlier this month, the LaSalle County Board approved a Missouri-based company's application for a frac sand mine at the edge of Starved Rock State Park. Tensions were high at the meeting, with union laborers pitted against park supporters. Those in favor of the plan say it will create 39 jobs, and be an economic boost for the local economy. But opponents say the sand mine could damage Starved Rock State Park. If that happens, opponents say, hundreds of tourism-based jobs could be lost.
The Illinois DNR is accountable for the well-being of the park, and it also manages the mining permit processes. That makes it the lone state agency responsible for balancing both sides of this delicate issue: Can the sands be used to benefit the state economy, while still protecting the park?
A boom of similar mines in Wisconsin has sparked complaints from some residents concerned about potential health hazards. So have even moved away because a sand mine popped up near their homes.
The Illinois DNR says it has already made recommendations to protect the environment if the mine is built. A DNR spokesman told the State Journal-Register that all laws will be followed in the permit process, and the "decision will be made without bias or influence."