For years, Mary Schenck has watched the field across the road from her horse farm in Sand Creek Township with a growing sense of unease.
Despite assurances to the contrary, Schenck and her neighbors have lingering doubts about the environmental impact of a plan to mine gravel on the field in question — about 80 acres of land, across from the farm that Schenck and her husband, Larry, run.
Chief among their concerns is safety, with “a gravel truck going out every five minutes past my place” on the 17000 block of Valley View Drive — one of six proposed routes under consideration.
“There’ll be nothing but trucks rolling around here, and I have kids” riding across Valley View, Larry Schenck said.
Officials say that the problem with routing the trucks onto Hwy. 169, which runs along the site — as has been urged by some residents — is that it could lead to more traffic accidents.
The controversial gravel pit cleared another hurdle earlier this month with Scott County Board approval of its final environmental impact statement.
That study looked at groundwater issues in and around the gravel pit under normal conditions and when floods occur, a mitigation plan if groundwater is found to be contaminated and plans to deal with ice jams.
The board unanimously endorsed the findings and recommendations of the study, which was paid for by the developer, Jordan Aggregates. But commissioners were quick to point out that the vote did not constitute tacit approval of the project itself.
Maggie Gallentine, a Sand Creek resident who has been to most of the information meetings, said the board’s action only heightens concerns about the inevitability of the project.
“We’ve kind of resigned ourselves to the fact that it’s going to happen,” she said, adding, however: “We will fight to the bitter end.”
She said neighbors have not ruled out legal action against Jordan Aggregates, which is owned by local businessman Steve Hentges. Hentges did not respond to messages seeking comment.
The board’s decision on the impact study is a milestone, but the developer still needs to undergo a lengthy and potentially difficult permitting process. No timetable has been set for when the company will file the paperwork for the initial permit.
The project, the cost of which has not been determined, has not been without its detractors — even within the county government.
“In my opinion, this makes no sense — dig a hole into the aquifer we drink from, subject it to periodic flooding of polluted waters and hope to mitigate it forever,” Kevin Ellsworth, Scott County’s chief financial officer, wrote in an e-mail to other county officials.
Several state agencies weighed in on the study’s findings, raising concerns ranging from groundwater issues to the prevention of threats to the deeper aquifer.
Michele Ross, environmental review director of the Health Department, wrote in a July 7 e-mail to Kate Sedlacek of Scott County Environmental Health that “we continue to recommend that a comprehensive well survey be completed and should include direct contact with each property owner within 500 meters of the mine property boundary.”
Mary Schenck remains convinced that the mining operation would present a community nightmare, environmentally and socially.
“It’s still going to be a wasteland,” Schenck said. “It’s going to change the water table.”
She added: “I don’t care if the environmental people pushed it through.”
Staff writer Pat Pheifer contributed to this report.