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Burning of tornado debris has caused concerns in Coal City, Diamond

Workers removed debris from Diamond Estates after the November tornado. Much of the remaining debris was burned at a location north of Coal City earlier this month, causing safety concerns among neighboring residents.
Workers removed debris from Diamond Estates after the November tornado. Much of the remaining debris was burned at a location north of Coal City earlier this month, causing safety concerns among neighboring residents.

COAL CITY – When deciding what to do with debris leftover from November’s tornado, the Diamond Village Board chose one of the least expensive and quickest removal methods – burning it.

Earlier this month, John Trotter of J. K. Trotter Enterprises, Inc. collected about 500 cubic yards of tree limbs, shingles, furniture and other debris into a large burn pile just north of Coal City, on a plot of unincorporated Grundy County land. 

Trotter secured a special permit from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency that allows the burning of debris in designated disaster areas. Before lighting the pile on fire, Trotter had the burn site inspected and approved by the IEPA and sorted away any materials considered hazardous, per the IEPA rules.

“It’s standard practice for the IEPA to issue these burning permits in disaster areas,” Trotter said. “I traveled to Washington, [Ill.] to observe how they were handling their disaster debris, and [burning] was the standard procedure.”

A few months ago, the village of Diamond accepted Trotter’s bid of about $24,000 to dispose of the tornado debris. Diamond Mayor Terry Kernc said Trotter was about $16,000 cheaper than the next bidder.

Trotter estimates he saved the village about $100,000 by burning the debris as opposed to hauling it away.

The burning lasted about one week and was nearly completed as of two weeks ago.

But Coal City residents and Mayor Neal Nelson were unhappy about the thick, black and potent smoke drifting toward some of the neighboring homes and are voicing their complaints.

“Whatever was being burnt was causing some good, significant black smoke,” Coal City Administrator Matt Fritz said. “We had at least 10 phone calls to Village Hall from concerned residents.”

Some of the residents called the IEPA directly, complaining that the city’s water table was somehow compromised by the materials being burned, which Kernc said was not the case.

As a result of the complaints, Kernc said she has postponed the burning of the remaining debris. Trotter already has burned the majority of the material, but was contracted to remove another “minuscule” amount from Amber and Laura lanes.

“When I heard about the burning, I went over to see,” Kernc said. “One look at it and I knew it would be a problem.”

As a direct response to those concerns, Kernc called a special meeting last week, inviting all local officials and Claypool Drainage representatives to discuss and try to resolve the problem.

She is currently working with the IEPA to get the burn site moved from the current spot near Coal City to a location closer to Diamond’s village limits.

She added that the burning is perfectly legal and presumably safe, according to the IEPA’s regulations.

“I have complete faith that the IEPA is concerned about the people’s health and safety,” Kernc said. “They are the experts. They know what they are doing and I trust them.”

Kernc said debris removal has been a “major issue” for the village and is predicted to become more of a problem this spring when the weather allows for more demolitions.

There were 243 homes and businesses affected by November’s devastating tornado, and about 50 percent of those structures sustained moderate to major damage, Kernc said.

It is still unclear how many of those buildings will have to be torn down, but Kernc said she expects there to be a “deluge” of activity when the weather warms.

“It’s up to those homeowners and their contractors to decide how they will get rid of their debris,” Kernc said. “Some of them may want to burn it as well. I just don’t know.”

The village will be holding a special meeting at 6 p.m. April 9 inside the Diamond Banquet Hall for all homeowners and contractors to make sure everyone is aware of the laws and zoning procedures associated with demolition.

Kernc said they will have experts available to answer any questions.

“By next November, we hope the area will look 90 to 100 percent better than it did one year ago.”

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