JOLIET – For professor Andy Neill, the beauty of the natural areas at Joliet Junior College is how they change through the seasons.
But one change that might “irreparably compromise” their features, as Neill put it, is a proposed road that is part of a development from Cullinan Properties for a lifestyle mall called Rock Run Crossings.
Although not opposed to the mall itself, Neill and the college’s natural areas committee have expressed concerns over the extension of County Farm Road to Houbolt Road, potentially cutting through a fen and other natural areas.
In light of this, Neill gave a group of students and faculty a tour Thursday of the fen and natural areas that might be affected by the proposed road.
“[The fen is] part of our filter system of our waterways, part of the management of the watershed,” Neill said.
Cullinan Properties is working with an engineering firm and the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers to study the location of the County Farm Road extension and how to mitigate its effect, said Anaise Berry, the company’s marketing director.
“Nothing is set in stone. We got the location we think would be best. We’re looking at the alternatives; we’re weighing all the options that are available,” Berry said.
JJC spokeswoman Kelly Rohder said in an email that the college supports the proposed development and that, as far as the County Farm Road extension is concerned, it is “important for us to take all perspectives into account,” including community feedback and a future Army engineers report on the effect of the development. She said the report wouldn’t be completed for about a year.
“In essence, we would like to have the results of the Army Corps report before we make any other recommendations,” Rohder said.
During the tour, Neill showed the group how the college manages the landscape and watershed of the natural areas that include not only the fen but the woodland, prairie and other types of land. He said the college spent a lot of time and money to protect waterways and restore land.
Some of the species that grow in the fen and nearby areas Neill highlighted were the marsh marigold, Michigan lily and the federally endangered leaky prairie clover.
Neill said the leaky prairie clover doesn’t tolerate heavy disturbance and was grown at the campus because it had the right habitat.
“We’re quite fortunate,” he said.
Among the animals spotted on the tour were a red-tailed hawk and bluebird.
“You’re not going to get a [bluebird] nesting in your backyard. They like these big, open, grassy areas where there’s plenty of insects,” he said.
Neill said he plans to address the Board of Trustees on Tuesday about the effect of the County Farm Road extension, saying he will speak on the behalf of the natural areas committee and other campus groups that are opposed to it.
He said there’s a natural gas pipeline that runs near the fen and if the proposed road can’t go over it then it would go over the fen, a wetland that acts like a sponge, absorbing excess water and slowly releasing the water throughout the growing season.
“It’s just an inappropriate place to put a road,” Neill said.
Berry said Cullinan Properties has documented the gas pipelines that exist in the development, but hasn’t determined if any of the proposed new roads would pass over them. If they did, she said the company doesn’t believe it would be a hindrance and believes that proper precautions would be taken.
JJC board Chairman Robert Wunderlich said that the majority of the board is in favor of the Rock Run Crossings development and, that although he understands the concerns of the JJC natural areas committee, he thinks the impact of the road is speculation at this point. He said the college is waiting on other agencies such as the army engineers to determine the road’s effect.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.