MORRISON – The Whiteside County Planning and Zoning Commission on Thursday gave a thumbs down to a controversial peat-mining operation.
Two landowners requested that the county allow them to mine peat on their property near Fenton Road in the western part of the county.
Mark Stichter and Jeff Hanson began the mining operation in the spring without a permit, officials said. After neighbors informed the county, officials required they go through the process to get a special-use permit.
Some neighbors objected to the proposal, saying it would destroy good farmland forever. They also feared that truck traffic would tear up their country roads.
The landowners originally requested 123 acres for the peat mining, but they reduced it to about 50 acres in response to concerns. A soil analysis showed that most of the excluded acreage was prime farmland.
The landowners also promised to keep their machinery away from homes.
In western Whiteside County, companies have long mined for peat, which is sold in bags in Walmart and other stores across the country.
The landowners' proposal would have involved the first peat mining north of Garden Plain Road. A county zoning official said he hadn't heard of opposition to such mining since he started three decades ago.
At Thursday's meeting, David Harrison of the Whiteside County Soil and Water Conservation District said most of the acreage excluded from the proposal was prime farmland. The peat-heavy area that remained is not as productive, he said.
"With peat, drainage doesn't always work," Harrison said. "There is extra maintenance required. If you hit the right year, you can have a good harvest. It's a crapshoot."
Jerry Engelkins, who lives near the proposed peat mining, objected to Harrison's analysis.
"In the 33 years that I've been there, there's always been corn grown there," he said. "They wouldn't grow corn there if they weren't making money."
Another resident, Sandra Hamm, said she invested $60,000 into her house that she bought a few years ago and spent a lot of time fixing it – "and now this is happening."
If the peat mining were allowed, she said, "this will never again be farmland until the end of time. There are people who are going hungry in this world. And we're selling our farmland one bag at a time through Walmart."
The commission voted 5-2 against the proposal; its decision is a recommendation to the County Board, which has the final say. The board is expected to take up the issue at its July 16 meeting.