(Correction to Story in the August Issue: The McHenry County Conservation District ceased to irrigate on their Marengo area properties on Aug. 13, 2015 and not Aug. 13, 2020 as originally submitted. The publication wishes to correct this error.)
Two distinct lines of opposition regarding a proposed groundwater use restriction ordinance are converging, with the intersect point at 300 West Street in Marengo. The location is owned by 300 West LLC, and leased to Arnold Magnetics Engineering, Inc., and both entities are embroiled in a lawsuit brought by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office over groundwater contamination, as well as civil litigation filed by residents.
A presentation on the ordinance was made by Glen Ellyn-based Environmental Information Logistics LLC, a proposal forwarded by 300 West LLC, at the June 3 meeting of the county board of health’s Regulation, Ordinance, Promotion and Planning Committee. Their contention is a “groundwater use restriction is the most viable option to address the groundwater conditions off‐site” that resulted in the contamination of private residential and commercial wells on Railroad Street and Ritz Road, and a moving plume.
“The matter was forwarded to the county board of health as an agenda item June 22, and discussed,” said Lindsay Salvetelli, the BOH Communications Spokesperson. “They are leaning toward a special meeting, and wanted to get public input on the ordinance but no date has been set. 300 West came to the BOH, and we’ve monitored this for three years.”
The discovery of volatile chemicals and solvents, now labeled as carcinogens, used in production methods over numerous decades, has seeped into the water table and migrated to areas, far away from the plant. The IAG’s office filed a civil lawsuit citing the two companies, under docket#13CH1046, to enforce on-site and off-site testing regimens mandated by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and seek remedial solutions for residents.
As part of a consent order, residents were to receive potable bottled water and periodic well-testing. The defendants agreed to pay for a water main, while also paying for the hook-up fees to properties with impacted wells. “Litigation is ongoing with respect to the hook-up project, (and) the investigation and remediation of remaining contamination at the site,” said Annie Thompson, the IAG’s senior press secretary. “Since filing the lawsuit…our priority was and continues to be ensuring that residents have access to a permanent source of safe drinking water,” she said.
The water main along Railroad Street, and north at its crossing with Ritz Road, was completed in 2018 but hook-ups have yet to be made. Agreements were tendered at that time, offering the option of connecting. Four properties declined, resulting in a stoppage of bottled water and testing. Both items were permitted and listed in the consent order. Litigation is being pursued privately under docket#18LA00195 in the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court by “Steven and Ann Anthony, et al. vs. Arnold Engineering Corporation.”
However the water main and groundwater use restriction ordinance are being viewed by many affected residents as a prelude to capping their wells, while the two entities liable for damage to the environment and livelihoods will not be held accountable.
“We have farms, its farmland out here,” said Ann Taggart, a Ritz Road resident. “If we can’t use the water, we can’t irrigate, and the ordinance will limit what we can do. The promise we got from Arnold’s, when we agreed to take the city water, which we are so grateful to the city for offering that to us, we only did that because Arnold said it was a temporary fix until they got it cleaned up.
“We told them we needed the wells too, for non-potable reasons, since we live on farms...the county board of health came out, inspected all of the wells, and approved separating the house (use) from the wells,” she said. “We thought this would work in a pinch until it (contamination) was cleaned up. Now, they’re saying they want to restrict the water, not clean it up, and wash their hands of it…which is not what we agreed to, in the first place.”
In a report, previously forwarded to the county board in Dec. 2019, EIL stated, “Because contaminants in groundwater are widely dispersed, it is not practicable to attempt to address the groundwater in the areas off the site where impacts are present. The remedy 300W proposes, combined with the institutional controls of ELUCs (land use controls) and a groundwater ordinance, is the most feasible remedy for the site and off‐site.
“If an ordinance is not approved for the off‐site areas, 300W will be forced to try to work with each individual property owner to ask that they agree to individual ELUCs. That process is cumbersome, could take years, and may not be successful for all properties – and in the meantime ‐ the residents will not be protected from legacy groundwater risk.”
It also stated, “The Illinois EPA likely would still require a groundwater‐use restriction ordinance during the extended timeframe it would take for groundwater pollutant levels to drop below applicable standards.”
The report acknowledged the objections of the McHenry Conservation District, which was forced to terminate a leasing contract for agricultural production on its properties, near Twin Gardens to the west, due to irrigation well contamination. A restriction ordinance boundary map shows several areas of greater concentration for ground water ingestion routes, north near the Kishwaukee River.
Pertaining to the lease agreement, “After a request by the IEPA to no longer use irrigation wells on Aug. 13, 2015, use of the district’s irrigation wells at the subject property stopped,” said Elizabeth Kessler, the district’s Executive Director. “The property is still leased for agricultural use but the irrigation wells are not being used, have not been used, and will not be used until the IEPA permits otherwise.”
“The district is opposed to the groundwater use ordinance. The district’s property has been tested by others, which testing is overseen by the IEPA, and the district has been and will continue to be cooperative in this matter,” she said.
Marengo city officials have not participated in discussions on the groundwater use restriction ordinance, instead focusing moving forward with connections being made to the water main, already in place.
“The city has not been approached on the matter (of the ordinance) by 300 West or McHenry County,” said City Administrator Josh Blakemore. “The city was prepared to allow hook-ups earlier this year, and then things shut down due to COVID-19. We are working with 300 West to begin hook-ups in the very near future. At this time, we are waiting on information from 300 West, but I would expect hook-ups to take place in the next few weeks.”
Kim Biggs, the IEPA Communications spokesperson noted, “Two petitions are set for a hearing Aug. 10 in McHenry County Circuit Court, as part of the ongoing litigation, with a ‘Rule To Show Cause.’ One motion is over the submittal of the Comprehensive Site Investigation Report/Remedial Objectives Report, and the other is regarding the hookups to public water.”
Meanwhile, Gert Randall surveyed and took stock of her farm one evening. It was once a thriving horse-boarding and training facility, a passion maintained after a long career in the profession at sites like Arlington Racetrack. “It’s quiet. I love people. And this problem forced me out of business. I can’t even sell. When someone takes your livelihood and doesn’t accept the blame…it’s hurtful.”