"The problem in Illinois is there are not many parks like this, so where else do you go?" said Ptak, who lives near Dundee, northwest of Chicago. "Nature-wise what else is there in Illinois? I imagine there are other places they could put a mine."
That's just what McKee and many other LaSalle County residents are saying. Sand mining has been a part of the local economy for more than a century, and another new mine recently was approved farther away from the park.
But other residents, including dozens of union workers who crowded the county board meeting in support of the mine, say officials should not pass up the opportunity to create jobs in a county where unemployment was 10.8 percent in November.
Attorney Jonathan Brandt, who represents the farmer selling the land to the mine, said opponents' fears are unfounded.
"The facts do not substantiate their claims," said Brandt, who said some people who might get jobs at the site have not worked in two years.
Paul Martin, an Ottawa attorney who opposes the mine, said the county and DNR should consider tourism jobs that could be lost if Starved Rock loses visitors.
"The DNR should weigh in on this, but it doesn't surprise me that it hasn't," said Martin, who noted that the proposed mine property also contains Indian artifacts. "They're keeping their heads down."
Illinois Sierra Club officials have vowed to fight on, and said they hope to influence state and federal agencies that must weigh in on the project. The club helped deliver more than 6,000 signatures to county officials opposing the mine, and has called for more detailed groundwater studies.
"Starved Rock is one of those places so many people hold dear," said Tess Wendell, an organizer with the Sierra Club. "We're trying to get the point across that not just LaSalle County has an interest, but the whole state of Illinois. Starved Rock is the people's park."
Once the company submits an application, the DNR has 120 days to deny or issue a permit, but can do so in as few as 60 days unless LaSalle County officials request a public hearing, McCloud said. Even then, the only issue that could be discussed is the plan for what happens to the mine once it's closed, not whether a permit may be issued.
Don Goerne, vice president of the Starved Rock Audubon Society, said his group is passionate about the park and stopping the mine.
"The fact that anyone is even thinking of this is unbelievable," he said. "Why wouldn't you protect the crown jewel of Illinois parks?
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