CARY – Soon it will be over.
Mining operations at the Meyer Material gravel pit in Cary – located east of Route 31 and west of the Fox Trails subdivision – will cease Dec. 15 after 23 years.
That’s the plan, anyway.
Josh Howell and his family moved in 2006 to their home on Abbeywood Drive. At the time, it seemed that the cornfield stretching all the way to Route 31 was an extension of their backyard.
But a year or so after moving, Howell and residents of Fox Trails learned of Meyer’s desire to expand north of where it already was mining and dig deep below those cornfields.
“I was against the project,” Howell said. “Who would want to live next to a mining pit?”
Most Fox Trails residents were against it, Howell recalled.
Cary officials, however, reached an agreement with Meyer in February 2008 that required Meyer to pay the village $6.25 million over 10 years in exchange for permission to extend operations north beyond the Algonquin border. Since 2008, Meyer has been digging for gravel at the north end of the property, just south of Cary Park District’s Hoffman Park.
“It made sense why they bought this,” Howell said, looking at a map of the Cary pit. “Because that whole system was in place.”
That system – of conveyors that carry gravel and other materials under Klasen Road and Route 31 – connects to Meyer’s two other locations to the south and southwest in Algonquin and Lake in the Hills.
Meyer keeps digging
Meyer, now owned by global parent company LafargeHolcim – a merger of two of the largest worldwide aggregate companies – tried several times to extend the end date of its mining operation past the originally agreed-upon date in 2016. Company officials cited the housing market collapse as the biggest reason demand for their products slowed down just after they began mining the new site.
Before 2013, Meyer officials asked to extend Cary mining operations until 2020, but changed their minds. In May 2016, a request to extend mining until June 2019 was denied by Cary trustees with a 3-3 vote.
In April, Cary trustees allowed Meyer – with a 4-3 vote – to use a floating dredge to accelerate mining at the site ahead of the December deadline. Sound specialists even testified that the sound would be “minimally audible.”
Trustee Ellen McAlpine, who voted in favor of the May 2016 extension proposal and the October 2016 dredge proposal, said the underwater dredge helped Meyer accelerate completion of the project and eliminate much of the noise and dust problems that had bothered residents.
Cary Village Administrator Jake Rife said there only have been a few noise complaints from residents near the pit.
In each case, the noise was coming from the earthwork going on – specifically the creation of the path around the lake and the removal of a berm that Meyer put in years ago to block homeowners’ views of mining.
That berm is not down yet. Rife said Meyer will “ramp up” removal work over the next few weeks, while the dredge work is on track to wrap up on time.
“The village’s expectation is that the dredge work will be completed Dec. 15,” Rife said. “The property will then be transitioned to the village on June 1, 2018. We expect them to meet deadlines.”
The original agreement required Meyer to pay $100,000 for each month of active mining that went beyond 2016. In total, Meyer has paid $7.5 million to the village, including the monthly fines, Rife said.
The company paid $350,000 of the $7.5 million to Cary Park District to help fund bike paths that tie into Hoffman Park to the north. The paths will go around the lake that was created by mining.
Trustee Jim Cosler, who voted against the three-year extension and against the floating dredge, said he hasn’t been guaranteed that mining will wrap up Dec. 15. Per the agreement, Meyer could continue and incur more fines.
However, Cosler also isn’t sure Meyer could continue dredging if the lake freezes over. He noted how abnormally cold it has been so far in November, and if access is hindered by ice, he wonders how that would affect operations.
Between now and June, restoration work will continue on the site. The land is being sloped down to the lake, and seeding will take place before spring comes.
In the short term, the village wants to look at possible costs of maintenance and small additions, such as an access gate for a parking lot or a picnic table here and there, Rife said.
There was talk in 2016 of a long-term, $8 million park development project. Rife said it would take significant time and resources to plan.
Cosler said the future of the site and what the park consists of will come down to whether the village cooperates with the Cary Park District or McHenry County Conservation District.
“I am optimistic we [Cary] will be able to work in partnership with the Park District or Conservation District in a mutually beneficial agreement,” Cosler said. “If that arrangement can be agreed upon, the people of Cary will benefit.”
On the western edge of the site, along Route 31, is a strip of commercially zoned land. It still will be owned by Meyer, but the village wants to get it developed to add to its sales tax base.
McAlpine said she hasn’t made it a secret how important it is to get some sales tax coming in on the commercial parcel.
“We need to get something sustainable in there that’s going to deliver revenue to the village,” McAlpine said, adding that there should be a car dealership or some sort of economic anchor there to diversify the village’s tax base.
Meyer regional manager Randi Wille did not respond to a request seeking comment.