LOWELL | Some residents of this corner of one of Indiana's most urban counties think agriculture is still worth fighting for.
Linda Cosgrove and John Bryant are veterans of a battle 15 years ago to stop a landfill from bringing pollution and truck traffic to a patchwork of farms east of Lowell. Now they oppose plans for a stone quarry up for review by Lake County officials in the coming weeks.
"If you dry out the water table as this might, you pretty well shut down all the development on I-65 clear to the (Kankakee) river," Bryant said.
Cosgrove said, "All we want to do is live down here out in the country and farm. We are all in a real pickle if this thing goes through."
They and other property owners fear the Singleton Stone quarry, proposed on 600 acres in Eagle Creek Township, southeast of Interstate 65 and Ind. 2, not only would drain the aquifer on which crops and livestock depend, but also flood other farms downstream.
Representatives of Rieth-Riley Construction, which holds a majority interest in Singleton Stone LLC, are telling county officials the quarry will create jobs and boost the county's tax base while harming no one.
"I understand the property owners' concerns; they really are not founded in fact," said Schererville attorney Jim Wieser, who is helping shepherd the quarry through the drainage approval procedure.
The County Council gave the quarry zoning approval in 2012. The project then got bogged down in two years of litigation, but now it is before the Lake County Drainage Board, which must decide whether it is compatible with the county's fragile drainage system, which literally keeps hundreds of south county farmers above water.
Lake County is best known as a land of heavy industry and blue-collar neighborhoods. But a drive 30 minutes south on I-65 would take you from steel mills to soybeans growing in fields valued in excess of $200 million, according to county property records.
But Bryant said this fertility depends on the right amount of moisture. The low-lying soils of the Kankakee River and its tributaries must be drained, while thirsty sand ridges must be irrigated from a limited aquifer that flows between the surface and bedrock 30 to 60 feet below.
The bedrock contains pure dolomite, a high-quality concrete aggregate a contractor like Reith-Riley would find useful. One study of the site estimated a quarry could yield 400 million tons of raw stone.
However, Bryant said excavating hundreds of feet down will result in groundwater seepage at a rate of thousands of gallons of water a minute. Pumping it dry could lower the water table for hundreds of irrigation and drinking-water wells within a 2-mile radius, Cosgrove said.
She is relying on a hydrological study done on the site by another potential quarry developer. Wieser said that study is outdated, incomplete and coming from a competitor who may have released it to prevent Singleton from entering this market.
"Our technical experts indicate the impact on surrounding wells is minimal, and this is not an issue to be properly brought before the drainage board. It already has been brought before. But to be on the safe side, we will place monitors at the edge of our development for any negative impact. If anyone does notify us in this unlikely event, our commitment requires us to replace the wells," Wieser said.
Cosgrove said the quarry must pump this groundwater into the Singleton Ditch, the main drain of south Lake County.
"It would fill up the Singleton and prevent farms downstream from using it," she said.
Wieser said, "That is simply not going to happen. We will not add any more water to the Singleton than is being added now."
He said the quarry would hold any high stormwaters temporarily.
"What better flood relief can you provide than a huge hole in the ground? We will be a huge storage source, and the release rate will be no greater than the current release rate," Wieser said.
William Emerson Jr., the county surveyor, said independent experts working for the county will evaluate the quarry plans and report publicly on the findings in the coming weeks. No date is set for a vote by the Drainage Board.