EDITORIAL: Rocks and a hard place

July 14, 2014

The town of Robbins is one of the poorest places to live in Illinois. In 2013, the trampled neighborhood finally made it into everyday conversation (and it probably was a half-day at best) when its police captain was fired for basically impersonating an officer. Oh, he held a Robbins badge, but apparently lied about his past experience in law. The average household income is a little more than $21,000 a year, and the population has been riding a steady decline for some time now.

The town of Robbins is right above rock bottom—and it needs to hit it.

A few years ago a developer entered the gray scene with a bag full of multicolored rainbows. The grand prism of a plan that included a therapeutic horse farm and parks was a larger-than-life quarry and mining operation. Apparently Robbins sits on an endless slab of dolomite, a magnesium-rich limestone that when crushed and processed is used to form road sub-bases. ALM Resources, which was promising the heroic hues of its plan would pull residents out from an endless pit, convinced the city council to give it the go-ahead. The quarry, however, created quite a quarrel, and in late June a new and improved board of city lawmakers voted against the economic invasion. Many residents were upset that they were not included in the everyday conversation and were worried about the size of the project and the speed it was coming at them, and many more simply did not want their neighborhood to change.

“This is one of the oldest black historical communities,” resident Shirley Howard told the Chicago Tribune. “We have the first black airport. The embryonic stages of the Tuskegee Airmen came out of this community. We’ve got so many medical doctors and nurses that came from this community.”

Realizing the concerns of the citizens, ALM downsized its dream and made the reassurance that disruptive noise would be held at a minimum (no more than one blast a day and mining trucks would use a traffic tunnel). Still, the Cook County Sheriff’s office, which was pushed into the argument when Sgt. Joe Friday was revealed, launched an investigation and found that the approval process did indeed have too much zip to it, was being improperly influenced by the Illinois state legislature and it was not clear if the village had adequate legal representation during the negotiation. ALM also needed to show more of the color green in those promised rainbows—green in the form of cold, hard cash that would be injected back into the bloodline of the town.

Mayor Tyrone Ward does see the promise in the venture. “It’s something that if done right could potentially bring more jobs. More importantly, it could attract other businesses.”

From the start, this deal was not done right. Before the city council approved such an endeavor it should have been upfront with its citizens. However, something tells me no matter how many fliers were delivered on the subject, only a minority would be willing to take a flier on the plan. People who have endured the hardships of this land have done so for a long time. Howard speaks of airmen, doctors and nurses, but she speaks in a past tense. Promise never stays around these parts, which is exactly why residents need to take a leap of faith here and move forward with change. I’m willing to bet those rainbows will ultimately provide a pretty soft landing, and at the same time the Chicagoland area will have one more quarry to choose from, which could drive the price of aggregate down. It could be a win that is felt beyond the scope of Robbins. The same type of people who came from this town will come to it. R&B

Bill Wilson
Bill Wilson
Bill Wilson

Bill Wilson is the editorial director of ROADS & BRIDGES magazine and has been covering the industry since 1999. He has won seven Robert F. Boger Awards for editorial excellence, including three in 2011. He also was the creator of the Top 10, Contractor's Choice Awards and Recycling Awards platforms, as well as ROADS & BRIDGES Live.

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