A Trustee’s Dilemma: Klein Creek Residents vs. Septran

September 10, 2011

Village Government

by Karen Skillman

Here’s an example of why serving on a village board presents a challenge in any community.

Currently before the Winfield Village Board is an issue concerning a special use permit requested by a local business, Septran, a school bus company located on St. Charles Road at Pleasant Hill.

Those driving along that section of St. Charles cannot help but notice the general light-industrial appearance to the place; welding shops, auto body shops, propane storage tanks, power transformers, a Winfield water tower and much more line the road. However, standing on the Septran property what you don’t see, behind a row of trees and some distance to the south, is the Klein Creek Town Homes.

Septran annexed into the Village of Winfield in 2009. At that time they let the village know that eventually they would request the installation of two above ground gasoline tanks, approximately six feet in diameter and fifteen feet in length, each with a capacity of 2,500 gallons. These on-site fuel tanks would allow the bus company to save time used in filling up at regular gas stations and bring competitive cost-savings to their operation by purchasing fuel in bulk. Gasoline cost is a major expense for a school bus company. On-site storage of fuel is heavily regulated for safety and EPA requirements by the State of Illinois and the Federal Government.

This year the company announced it was ready to make the improvement. In accordance with Village ordinance a sign announcing an August 3rd, 2011 public hearing to discuss the matter was erected at the Septran site. Notices were mailed to all property owners within 250 feet of the property and a public notice was published in the newspaper. All legal requirements were met.

At the public hearing, Village staff outlined the request and the Septran people made their presentation. Only one Klein Creek resident was present and that resident spoke in favor of the bus company’s request. The individual thought Septran was a good neighbor and wanted the commission to know. The request was approved by a unanimous Plan Commission vote.

The next step in the process brought the matter to the Village Board’s August 18 meeting of the “committee of the whole” for general discussion. At this meeting, several town home residents showed up to state their objection. Because Septran is located more than 700 feet from the back of the nearest town home, well beyond the 250’ notification range, none had received written notification. Also, apparently the residents had neither seen the published legal notice nor driven past the sign. As a result they learned of the matter late in the process. They expressed serious concerns with regard to safety issues of storing fuel near a residential area. The fact that fuel storage would be done in a manner compliant with all federal and state regulations did not satisfy them.

Yet, can we blame the residents? They are in a squeeze. On one side their neighborhood backs up to Klein Creek Golf Course, a frequent source of complaints, where the action starts at sunrise and music from receptions and parties blasts into the evening. On the other side these residents have an industrial row filled with power lines and propane tanks and now they learn one of the businesses wants, as a matter of profitability, to add yet more fuel containers. These people feel they have had enough.

What about Septran? They reasonably thought they had an understanding as part of their annexation. Do they press that understanding or do they keep paying higher gas prices at the pump? Or, do they look for a way to get out the annexation? The owners must be experiencing buyer’s remorse for becoming part of Winfield. Do they regret not installing the tanks first, then annexing and thus avoiding the entire mess?

As for Winfield Village Trustees, what do they do? Dozens of voters are upset over a matter that a month earlier they didn’t even know existed. Opportunities for political grandstanding by some trustees are almost limitless. Village politics being what it is, can any elected official afford to anger a block of voters over this unfortunate matter? The issue comes up for a vote soon.

About Positive on Winfield

Positive on Winfield is a blog with articles on local issues, local events, and local interests in Winfield, IL. Positive on Winfield is the blog website of the local civic action group, Winfield United for a Better Community.

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