In Wake of Supreme Court Ruling, Officials Scramble to Save Wetlands

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Byline: Alicia Fabbre Daily Herald Staff Writer

Officials throughout the state and even the country want to make sure a federal ruling that clears the way for a garbage dump near Bartlett doesn't spell an end to the wetlands that dot the landscape.

Concerned that the ruling erodes the Army Corps of Engineers' ability to regulate wetlands, officials from Kane County, near the proposed landfill site, and other counties are considering laws of their own to keep developers from filling or paving over wetlands.

On Thursday, a proposed change to the state's storm-water management rules that would give counties more authority over isolated wetlands won the backing of the land-use and conservation committee in the state House. The changes could come up for a House vote later this month or in early April.

"Right now we don't have any authority over the filling of wetlands," said Tim Harbaugh, Kane County's environmental management director. "Our original intent (with the wetlands) was to leave that regulation with the Army Corps of Engineers."

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the Army Corps did not have any say over the wetlands found in a proposed landfill site near Bartlett. The ruling is the latest in a 15-year battle to prevent a garbage dump - known as a balefill - in a former gravel pit near West Bartlett and Gifford roads in unincorporated Cook County near Bartlett.

In its decision, the court ruled the Army Corps could not use a portion of the Clean Water Act to regulate isolated bodies of water because the sites are used by migratory birds.

Though the court stopped short of overturning the act, environmentalists have argued the decision erodes the Army Corps' ability to regulate building on isolated wetlands. In most counties, developers are required to obtain a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers before building on wetlands.

"Everyone in the U.S. is going to be dealing with this ... (the Army Corps has) definitely lost some of their authority," Harbaugh said. "How much if it (they lost) is waiting for clarification."

After the ruling, state Rep. Karen May, a Highland Park Democrat, started pushing for changes to state laws clarifying what role county storm-water management commissions have in protecting isolated wetlands. …