Judge gives the green light for Rockton asphalt plant to proceed with production


Black’s Quarry, the approved asphalt plant location. Photo by Mark West of Rockton Strong.

The rock quarries west of Rockton have been the subject of scrutiny and opposition since an owner filed a petition back in 2016 to be annexed into Rockton, adding and operating an asphalt plant to its property.

Now, after a favorable ruling [PDF] in Winnebago County's 17th Judicial Circuit Court, Northern Illinois Services is free to go ahead with plans to open an asphalt plant at its current limestone quarry on 11200 North Main Street in Rockton. The county board approved the permit in June 2018 following a public hearing and a zoning board of appeals recommendation. It was strongly opposed by trustee Jim Webster, who represents Rockton, as well as trustee Steve Schultz of Roscoe.

Neighboring residents were concerned about the pollution, noise, odors, truck traffic, potential groundwater contamination, and health issues that an asphalt-producing company would bring to the community.

In 2018, the power of the internet brought increased attention to the matter, which led hundreds of concerned residents to establish Rockton Strong, a nonprofit organization vehemently opposed to the asphalt plant. The organization says it wants to foster positive social change within the Rockton community and its surroundings. The organization's website emphasizes, "While our primary focus currently centers on opposing the asphalt plant, we are committed to addressing other significant community matters as they arise."

The subject of the asphalt plant even brought protests, with signs, opposing its operation in our community.

In a 2021 article in The Herald by reporter Marianne Mueller, you can read all of the concerns voiced by residents against the plant at a Rockton Zoning Board of Appeals meeting. One quote that stands out to this reporter is by resident Ava Emroll. She stated, "Do not bring this to our community. It will affect our children, our health, and our environment. Farmers are already living there. Just look at the town of Flint. Michigan, where the city was poisoned by lead in the water because somebody made a decision. It is our schools, our park, and our community."

Rockton School District and about a dozen homeowners in the area had challenged the permit requested by Northern Illinois Services Co and the County of Winnebago through a civil complaint seeking judicial review. For the past couple of years, it has seemed relatively quiet at Black's Quarry, the location of the approved asphalt plant. The low activity level is thanks to a judicial stay after Village trustees voted unanimously to pass a resolution objecting to the proposed Winnebago County Zoning Map Amendment to allow the plant.

That's all to change now with the recent court ruling on Friday, June 14, 2024.

The parties decided in 2023 that the judge could look at the 2018 testimony to make her decision, without calling new witnesses.

In the ruling on Friday, Judge Lisa R. Fabiano disclaimed that the 2018 permit violated zoning laws or was an arbitrary decision. She said that Winnebago County had adequately considered health, environmental, and property value concerns from neighboring residents.

Judge Fabiano acknowledged all of the concerns but argued that modern emission controls and containment measures required by regulations would adequately address those concerns.

The location would be the only asphalt plant in northern Winnebago County, and the company argued that being closer to road projects means lower costs, since less asphalt would need to be thrown away because of cooling and hardening during delivery.

The judge also cited the county's land-use plan designating the quarry area for industrial development as a sign that officials had carefully considered proper uses for the site.

The ruling said that opponents did not present ‘clear and convincing’ evidence to demonstrate that the county board had made an unreasonable decision in 2018. The judge ruled it was a constructive approach to boosting local supply, reducing asphalt costs for road projects, generating tax revenue, and creating jobs. 

The plaintiffs' attorney, Jim Meason, told Rockton-Roscoe News, "We fought the good fight, but our arguments did not carry the day."

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Jim Webster was the only member of the County Board to vote against the special use permit. After the ZBA voted 6-1 to approve it, the Winnebago County Zoning Committee voted 6-1 not to recommend approval. In June 2018, nine Winnebago County Board trustees voted against it, including Webster and Schultz. Ten voted in favor.

More about the asphalt plant

Rockton braces for potential asphalt plant after 6 years of legal limbo

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