The New Lenox Village Hall overflowed Monday night with residents who had come to make a stand against the regional wastewater treatment plant proposed in the south side of town, near the Royal Meadows subdivision.
More than 120 people attended the Village Board meeting, many spilling out into the hallway, to let Mayor Tim Baldermann and board trustees know that they were not happy about the $55 million plant the village has planned to build a quarter of a mile west of the subdivision, north of Delaney Road.
The village approved another measure connected with the proposal Monday night – an $11,766 contract for soil testing on the 80-acre site as part of the village’s process of due diligence before finalizing the purchase of the property by the end of March.
Baldermann told attendees that the Village Board was looking at two alternate sites for the plant and would meet with residents March 5 at the village hall, whether it decides to forego the Delaney Road site. This would follow a March 1 meeting with engineering firm Strand Associates Inc. to ascertain whether the other sites are viable for building the plant.
If the firm determines that the Delaney Road site is the only feasible option for the village, residents would have the opportunity March 5 to “ask all of your questions, voice all of your concerns … before we move forward with the purchase of the property,” Baldermann said.
Nine residents spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting. They outlined several concerns, including fear of depreciating values of their homes, decreased quality of life and possible health hazards emanating from airborne pollution and possible spills from the plant.
“We’re here to put a face on the community,” said Rick Shafer, a Royal Meadows resident of 22 years. “It affects who we are as people, as residents of New Lenox.”
He added, “I believe a plant this size, in this location, it’s gonna be harmful to us.”
Larry DeSando read from a study of a plant in Greece that outlined airborne pollutants that might affect the health of people living within a third of a mile from a sewage treatment plant.
Trustee David Smith, in response, said the conditions of a plant in Greece at the end of a financial crisis in the country would not be comparable to what the village would plan to build.
Joe Winslow, a Royal Meadows resident for 19 years, told the board that “it is unfathomable to think that a governing body, such as yours, would consent to build a raw sewage treatment plant anywhere close to residential homes.”
Winslow also questioned the need for a treatment plant that would be able to handle waste for a population of about 55,000 people – with New Lenox’s current population at 27,000 – saying that “you have more time than you think to effectively coordinate a plan to locate a better and safer location.”
L.T. Lee, who lives in an unincorporated portion of Delaney Road near the proposed site, told the board, “Your decision will have repercussions you don’t understand.”
Dennis McLaughlin said his home – also on unincorporated land – would be closest to the plant. In his estimation, he said, it would be about 559 feet away.
“I’m a father,” he said. “Any of you as a father or mother here, there is no way you want your kids playing in your yard, sleeping in their beds 559 feet from a colossal, 35-plus-acre sewer treatment plant.”
Maureen Pinta of Royal Meadows said, “We are citizens and deserve to have a voice too.”
Baldermann, in a separate interview after the meeting, said that the board was taken by surprise by the residents’ reaction to the plant, since the village was placing the plant farther from residents than the existing treatment plants it will replace.
He added that several factors would determine if the other sites the village is looking at may be good alternates. These include not only the cost of purchasing, building and pumping to the plant, with all the infrastructure required, at those sites, but also whether the Environmental Protection Agency would approve those sites.
A substantial increase in cost would mean that the village would have to raise water and sewer rates even higher to cover the extra cost, he said.
“There has to be a balance [when weighing concerns],” Baldermann said.
As for concerns raised by some residents that the village would look to profit off the larger plant by allowing other communities to use it, Baldermann was adamant that the proposed plant is only for the use of the village.