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Editorial: Proposed mine at Starved Rock’s door shows need to update law

Family canyStarved Rock. | Kathy Casstevens-Jasiek

Family in a canyon at Starved Rock. | Kathy Casstevens-Jasiek

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Updated: January 19, 2013 6:14AM

Illinois has rich deposits of fine sand that suddenly are extremely valuable on the national and world market. Companies are so eager to dig it up that the interest in sand has been compared to a new gold rush.

But environmentalists say the state’s antiquated mining laws have not kept pace with the new demand, and nowhere is that more apparent than at Starved Rock State Park, where a company is prepared to start mining just outside the park’s doors.

Last week, the Sierra Club, Prairie Rivers Network and Openlands filed a suit asking for judicial review of the proposed 80-acre open pit mine. They worry that La Salle County has given the go-ahead without thorough evaluation of how the mining would affect the park’s ecology.

The court should grant that review. Mining is an important part of the state’s economy, and La Salle County is eager to get an economic boost from the mine, but we must avoid damage to the park that could persist long after mining operations are completed a decade from now. More careful study of how the mine would affect water flow across the park, wildlife, vegetation and the visitor experience is necessary.

The deficiencies in the law became clear when the Illinois Department of Natural Resources declined to testify at public hearings on behalf of Starved Rock, even though it owns it. The DNR found itself on both sides of the issue because it also regulates mining.

“I think they are having a difficult time managing that conflict,” said Jack Darin, director of the Sierra Club’s Illinois chapter.

The sand is in demand for hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” a new process that brings us cheaper natural gas.

We all like lower energy bills. But we need to update the state’s regulations so that we’re sure we’re going about it the right way.

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