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Pollution cleanup in the heart of Mendota

Nicor unveils cleanup plan from century-old gas plant

MENDOTA — Hardly anyone alive now knows the polluters whose actions and inactions led to a major soil-pollution cleanup that will start next month in Mendota.

Officials from Nicor Gas, ComEd and two environmental firms alerted Mendota City Council on Monday about a two-year cleanup project that will take place on the Black Bros. manufacturing property just a block or two south of the police station and council chambers.

And, they emphasized the pollution did not come from Black Bros., the coating and laminating machinery manufacturer.

The pollution comes from tar and chemicals left over from the days of gaslights in homes and when a coal-gasification plant was in operation from 1875 until 1940, said cleanup project manager Linda Josupait in a presentation to the council.

“The plants were a big deal; they brought industry to town,” Josupait said, adding that sometimes there was competition among the gas producers.

Mendota actually had another gas-maker (for only five years), and a couple of years ago, a site cleanup quickly and quietly took place near the railroad tracks, north of the Breaking the Prairie Museum and south of the former Motor Wheel plant, said Alderman John Pierson.

This cleanup isn’t likely to be as quiet as that one, at least at first.

Josupait said before the soil-pollution cleanup can begin, contractors for Nicor will need to demolish a small brick shed and some small warehouses on part of the Black Bros. property.

That work will take place in November and into the winter, with soil excavation and removal taking place next spring and the following year.

Josupait said at times during the soil cleanup, six to 10 trucks will be making the rounds between the site, hauling soil from the site to hazardous-waste-approved landfills. She said the trucks will be staged (or wait) in a location near Motor Wheel, most likely, and they should not be lined up on busy streets.

Fourth Ward Alderman Mark Peasley asked if the project will result in work for local truck owners and companies. Amanda Haugen, project manager for Burns McDonnell, said the landfills actually hire the hazardous-waste-certified haulers.

Neighborhood consideration

ComEd, Nicor and their associates will make efforts to hold to contain occasional tar odors during excavation by erecting a large fabric tent structure over and around the excavation areas, said Josupait, who works for Nicor through Tall Oak Associates Inc. As a consideration to residential and commercial neighbors, that tent structure will operate under regulated pressure — even with a door open, air will be drawn inward into purification equipment.

There should be no danger to the community. Ameren Illinois has a similar multi-million-dollar project taking place near the Illinois and Michigan Canal basin south of First Street in La Salle. There is no tent or air-containment in that project in an industrial area near the city sewer plant.

“We do an extensive air monitoring program,” Josupait said.

Neighbors of the site in Mendota may hear a humming noise from the air handlers, and the fabric tent will not muffle excavation sounds or the noise when heavy equipment is driving sheet-piling down into the ground for soil containment in excavated areas. The excavation site is just a little more than an acre, but that’s a lot of dirt when the polluted soil will be removed to depths ranging from 3 to 25 feet and replaced.

While most of the cleanup is on the factory site, the crews also will do some excavation of creek sediments nearby.

Effects on Black Bros.

Black Bros. will have to change the way it’s doing a few things to accommodate the guests cleaning up the previous owners’ mess.

Jeff Simonton, Black Bros. chief operations officer (and also city treasurer), said the cleanup crews will cause a bit of an inconvenience and disturbance for the company. The work caused Black Bros. to get a new parking lot (courtesy of Nicor Gas). While it doesn’t block the main loading docks, the cleanup site will block a location that Black Bros. use for deliveries of small parts and UPS and FedEx parcels.

Despite the inconveniences Black Bros. will have to deal with, Simonton emphasized that the cleanup managers are “very professional” and he thinks they’ll do a great job.

Online information

Nicor Gas is providing more information and updates on the cleanup at For additional information, Mendota residents can contact Bernie Anderson of Nicor Gas at (309) 261-4155 or email

Craig Sterrett can be reached at (815) 220-6935 or Follow him on Twitter @NT_NewsEditor.

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