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For peat’s sake, board has big decision ahead

Will peat mining operations expand in Whiteside County? The decision is up to the County Board. The permitting process has led to a better overall understanding of the consequences, which is a positive step.

Whether we think much about it or not, human activity has had a profound impact on the land where we live, much of it around here being farmland.

Decades ago, various developments went forward unquestioned.

Thus, strip mining for coal was allowed for a long time in Illinois. The practice tore away the surface of the earth to reach coal deposits.

What was left was a mess – haphazard piles of dirt, gouges in the land that filled with water, and a no man’s land that was not fit for much else but abandonment.

Other activities have had an impact, though not as dramatic.

A new road is built, and farmland is taken for the project.

A new subdivision is constructed, and farmland is taken.

A new store is built on the edge of town, and farmland is covered up.

Someone wants to develop a quarry, and the farmland above the rock and gravel will be gone for good.

People accept some uses of land because the greater public good is served.

Does that acceptance apply to peat mining?

Whiteside County residents will have that on their minds as the County Board takes up a request for a permit to mine peat west of Morrison.

The landowners, Mark Stichter and Jeff Hanson, requested the permit for 50 acres. Their plan is to remove the peat from the property near Garden Plain Road. The product would be sold in bags in stores such as Walmart.

The petitioners already began their mining operations, but after complaints were raised, they sought a permit.

Peat mining may not be as disruptive as strip mining or quarrying, but it has an impact. Land that has been mined for peat often fills with water. Conventional farming operations no longer can be done there.

For many rural neighbors, especially those who live right next to peat mining operations, the disruption is unwelcome.

Testimony given at this week’s Whiteside County Planning and Zoning Commission meeting brought out additional facts and opinions about the practice.

That exercise was well worth it. Commission members, people who attended the meeting, and those who read about it in news stories came away with a better understanding of the stakes involved.

After hearing numerous objections, the commission voted 5-2 against granting the permit.

However, it will be up to the full County Board to decide, likely at its next meeting on July 16.

Peat mining has taken place south of Garden Plain Road for decades. The new proposal is the first for any land north of Garden Plain Road.

As the permitting process moves forward, County Board members should consider the consequences of their actions. On one hand, peat mining creates jobs and income. On the other, it irrevocably changes the land.

In the march toward more responsible environmental stewardship, does peat mining fit in with our 21st century sensibilities?

That question is for the people of Whiteside County, through their County Board, to decide.


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