Letting History Repeat Itself
How is it that the Village of Round Lake Trustees aren’t understanding what’s going on here? They are putting enormous trust in Dan Powell to deliver a so-called “Ski Hill” on the premise of a business plan with more holes than the average pair of Crocs. Do they not know what’s going on at his CHDS location, a property the Village owns? Steve Shields, the Village Administrator certainly does. He’s been made aware of every letter sent to Mr. Powell by the Lake County Health Department citing violation after violation since July 2019. Maybe he never told the Trustees about them, or the 10 current outstanding violations at the CHDS property at Wilson Rd and Rt. 120?
Oh, wait. You don’t know about the letters and violations either. Gather round kids, it’s story time.
Once upon a time, on some land nearby, nothing existed. As you can see in this undated photo from a realtor trying to sell the 34 acre property across from Big Hollow Schools, the corner of Wilson Rd and Rt. 120 was empty of large piles of dirt, flaming mulch, and compliant, unlike a letter sent to both Dan Powell of CHDS and Steve Shields, the Village Administrator, just 11 days ago.
IN THE BEGINNING
The Village of Round Lake had a plan for the corner of Wilson Rd. and 120. It looked like a lovely plan. This high priced Village owned property would be perfect for any of the targets Mr. Shields listed.
High priced? Well, yes. You’ll remember that the village purchased this property on March 21, 2007 for a mere $5.5 million. You know, just as the housing boom became a bust. Also unclear is the fact that in August 2004, the Village of Round Lake seems to have already obtained control of the property, maybe in a trust, from American National Bank & Trust of Chicago for the price of $0. But that factoid is for someone else who knows how real estate works to figure out.
The Mayor of Round Lake at that time was Bill Gentes, but we’ll get there in a moment.
For comparison, Wilson and 120 is just under 56 acres, and the Village purchased it for $5.5 million, which is just over $98,000 per acre (sorry for the math, we’ll be done soon). However, if you want to own some property and don’t mind small planes, you can purchase Campbell Airport, located off Townline Rd. on the west side of Fairfield, and the proposed Ski Hill for $8 million.
Now, I know it’s a bit pricey, but you’ll get 246 acres, which is just under $31,000 per acre. I realize things are different now than in 2007--I alone have a 15 year old human living rent free in my home, and while he’s bright, smart and funny, he’s also extremely lazy and allergic to the Earth. But does paying $65,000 less per acre now compared to 15 years ago seem reasonable?
There’s an old Chicago Tribune article from 2008, which you can read here. Not only did former mayor Bill Gentes lie about being fired from his job as a realtor when he ran as the Democratic nominee for an Illinois Senate seat, but also about “why Round Lake gave a “no-bid” contract to a real estate company that reaped hundreds of thousands of dollars on village land deals”. The mayor’s wife is an employee of the company, a fact Gentes said had nothing to do with the hiring of the company.”
Smell that people? It’s not my kid. He took a shower, and he’s wearing deodorant today. That stench is the old “pay to play” politics, and it's not just for the big cities. The “Wilson-120 LLC” listed as the seller voluntarily dissolved in 2009, but it can be traced back to a real estate group.
So, aside from the rancid odor of politics having a field day with our taxpayer money since at least 2007, what happened to the original plan for our beautiful, vacant, over-priced 56 acre corner across from Baxter? Remember, this property is tax exempt. If nothing gets built, although it’s not generating business to help offset the horrible purchase price, it’s also not costing us money either.
Dan Powell and CHDS happened, of course.
BREAKING THE RULES
If you’re going to start a business, or begin your first day at a new job, you need to get your permits or credentials in order. I can’t start teaching in a classroom if I don’t present myself for fingerprinting and a background check in the county in which I’ve landed a job. I have a valid teaching certificate. I’ve passed all my classes, and the state says I’m qualified. But McHenry County wouldn’t let me teach their 1st graders via Zoom in April 2020 until I registered my certificate with the Regional Office of Education in their county, even though I was currently registered and had been teaching in Lake County.
On September 20, 2019 Dan Powell and Steve Shields each received their own copy of a letter from the Lake County Health Department stating that a representative had visited CHDS on July 26. The Village of Round Lake was listed as the owner on the permit.
The letter officially notified the Village and CHDS for failure to develop the site prior to beginning operations. This meant CHDS started accepting landscaping waste, essentially opening its doors and doing business, before the grounds had been properly developed and inspected for that purpose.
Further, a second violation was issued because CHDS needed to provide written notification to the Lake County Health Department and the Illinois EPA that the development of the property for the purpose of landscape waste recycling had been completed, allow 20 work days for the site to be inspected, and THEN after all that, CHDS could open its doors and begin doing business.
A few weeks later, on October 2, 2019, Mr. Powell sent a letter of apology to both the Lake County Health Department and the Illinois EPA. As you can see, he stated he closed his doors and asked to enter into a CCA, which is a Compliance Commitment Agreement.
That’s going to be important to remember later on, kids, as agreements tend to have consequences when you don’t hold up your end of the deal. Keep in mind that Steve Shields and the Village of Round Lake are also fully aware of the situation, because the Village owns the property.
In fact, on October 7, 2019 Mr. Shields sent his own letter of apology to LCHD. Note his attempt to deflect blame by stating that the Village “required the operator to obtain and follow all necessary permits for the use of the property and operations to take place” and that it “trusted the operator to follow the permit requirements.”
The Village trusted Dan Powell. And right from the start, Mr. Powell set aside that trust so he could begin making money at the tax exempt property he was leasing from the Village, without following the guidelines set out in the permits he obtained.
But yes, let’s trust him again with a shaky business plan, costs which have yet to be made public or verified, environmental questions which have not been answered, traffic impact studies which do not include estimated construction generated traffic and have not been completed, and the engineering feasibility of building something so massive using a specific product from a company which has never been contacted.
This line of thinking makes as much sense as turning on your oven, opening it up, and climbing in.
Following the apologies, Mr. Powell and LCHD entered into an “I’ll get that fixed” agreement in October 2019, and Steve Shields received a copy of the paperwork. Mr. Shields had to sign that he understood, on behalf of the Village as the property owner, that all conditions need to be met. Copies were also sent to the IEPA, as well as the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office. That’s because failure to comply can lead to referral to the Attorney General, the State’s Attorney of Lake County, or even the United States EPA.
BENDING THE RULES
Thus 2019 ended and 2020 came along and…
I’ll spare you the details, I’m sure you were there. Obviously, no one visited anyone on site or did much in-person business for a while.
On August 17, 2020, Mr. Powell received this notice of intent to pursue legal action from LCHD. Mr. Shields was also notified and received one. Looks like someone can’t be trusted to fix what they said they were going to fix. Mr. Powell started violating his permit from the day he opened his doors. He got caught in July 2019, formally notified in September, apologized in October and said he would fix it. But the world didn’t shut down for 5 months.
This is over a year from the initial violation. Yes, there was Covid. Yes, everything shut down. But this facility operates outdoors. At some point in 2020 people began to operate their cars, trucks...front loaders and returned to a modified work environment. I do not know exactly how CHDS operated during this time, whether they were closed for business or accepting landscaping waste at one end of the site while selling mulch and topsoil at the other.
What they weren't doing was fixing the trouble they were in with LCHD and IEPA and the Village of Round Lake, as property owners, continued to do not a damn thing
Then, in a spectacular bit of foreshadowing, Mr. Powell sat down with Mike Adam, the Deputy Director of Environmental Health at LCHD. In this letter, dated October 2, 2020, you can read for yourself the outcome of the September 15 meeting.
Whatever discussions were had, whatever evidence Mr. Powell presented, it was reviewed and denied. Strange, the public seems to have done the same thing to him on August 15.
I do not know what became of any legal action from this point forward. What I do know is that regardless of the threat to pursue legal action by the Lake County Health Department and/or the IEPA, the Village of Round Lake continues to do business with Mr. Powell and CHDS, and seems to enjoy the thought of entertaining the possibility of doing even more business with him.
Let’s move on to 2021, shall we? Upon a visit to CHDS on July 6, 7, and 8, it was determined there were three violations.
First, notice the permit violation, which seems to be section 21(d) and then subsection (1). This is the same listing system from the original violation given back in July 2019. So every time LCHD walks on to the property, CHDS gets cited for this violation because IT HAS NOT BEEN FIXED.
The other violations have to do with how landscaping waste is recycled, which is a bit technical. But if you want to know what a “windrow” looks like, the report also includes photos. Here is what landscape waste windrows are.
When a violation occurs, LCHD requires a written response submitted via certified mail within 45 days. You can request a meeting like the one Mr. Powell had with Mike Adam back on September 15, 2020, but the letter must indicate if you wish to enter into a CCA. If you do, you propose the terms and dates for achieving them. The LCHD looks it over and either agrees with your CCA or they just send you one they like better.
If you do not respond to the violation notice, the LCHD can proceed with legal action.
On August 9, LCHD was back again to see if CHDS had fixed their July 2021 violations. Not only had they failed to fix them, but CHDS was again cited for continuing to conduct a waste storage, treatment or disposal operation without a permit or in violation of permit conditions--you know, the one we keep talking about from 2019.
By October 2021, Mr. Powell and CHDS still hadn’t cleaned up their shit.
Not only does CHDS get a permit violation every time LCHD steps onto the property, but this time there were storm water and runoff issues. You’ll recall Mr. Powell’s business is located right next to a wetland. It’s part of the Kettle Grove Forest Preserve.
I’m sure you know where this is going. The year 2021 wasn’t over yet, so of course LCHD visited again. Why play by the rules now when you haven’t bothered to play by them before?
When the lucky lads from LCHD visited CHDS on December 1, 2021, they had a host of items to write down.
But wait. Isn't this 2022? Why yes, yes it is. And yet, here we are. Same old property at Wilson and 120. Same old mountain of dirt. Same old long list of problems.
So far this year, CHDS has received violation letters for inspections on February 17, May 9, June 17, and July 12. Among the violations on February 17, were some related to training for operators and employees and measuring oxygen levels. When LCHD returned to the site on May 9, those two violations had been corrected. However, everything else and more was still outstanding.
As of 11 days ago, these are the outstanding violations CHDS still has with the Lake County Health Department.
It’s a long list. I feel like if a cop pulled me over and looked up my driver’s license and saw this many speeding tickets in my history, I’d probably have my license suspended. My insurance would drop me and possibly my husband.
Is there a point in which we say NO? Is there a limit to which we say, “I’m sorry, I don’t want to do business with you anymore”? Are Village officials really this blind?
This is happening RIGHT NOW on property THEY OWN, and are ACTIVELY LEASING to Dan Powell.
On August 10, 2022, my friend Susan made a FOIA request to the Lake County Health Department for “any and all violations” and provided the address and PIN number for the CHDS site. She received the documents on August 22. In all those documents, I have not seen any evidence of further CCA agreements between Mr. Powell and LCHD for any violations after the initial 2019 permit issue. I have not seen any written response as required to any of the violations, which means that on each inspection date for which new violations were found, Mr. Powell opens himself to prosecution.
TIME FOR NEW RULES
Our first order of business must be to stop the annexation of the property at Fairfield and Rt 120 from being approved. A yes vote leads to the division of the property into 2 lots and comes with the development of the Ski Hill that we all know will never exist. Mud Mountain 2.0 is the only thing that we will see if the Village Board votes to approve the annexation.
How do you get 4 Trustees to vote NO in the face of a Mayor who desperately wants to push this plan through? Nothing is guaranteed to work. But we aren’t going down without a fight.
SHOW UP ON SEPTEMBER 6. Even if Dan’s Dump isn’t on the agenda, we still need to go to the next Village Board Meeting. We need another big turnout to prove that we are still invested, angry, and keeping a close eye on the Mayor and Trustees. There is always time allotted for Public Comment--so let’s make the most of it. People matter. Bodies matter. Outrage matters. Embarrassment matters. Getting your ass handed to you in front of people whose respect you think you deserve matters. Having your ego take a hit matters. Being told voters are coming for you matters.
REALLY SHOW UP ON SEPTEMBER 19. This is the meeting where a possible vote may take place on the annexation. Bring the kids. Bring the pet goldfish and threaten a sit-in. Do whatever it takes, within the law and without violence, to get 4 Trustees to say NO to this project. Remember, our Village officials have no excuses now. We’ve done the work for them. We’ve visited the websites, done the math, made the calls, and examined the letters. If they were in the dark about Dan Powell’s violations of their trust regarding his use of their property at Wilson and 120, they can’t claim to be anymore. Make it known that any hopes they have of running unopposed in 2023 or 2025 are nonexistent. There are people in our community willing to take on these roles, and you will see them on election day.
Email Village Officials. Send them links to these blogs. Send them personal letters with questions of your own. Send them daily Deep Thoughts about how their failure to see this absurd proposal for what it is borders on insanity. They likely won’t respond to you. But receiving hundreds of emails a day at an unpaid volunteer job because of an inability to see reason won’t be the uplifting, rewarding public service moment they thought the job might bring when they were elected or appointed in the first place.
As a second order of business, we need to see Dan Powell and CHDS held accountable for the violations they continue to rack up over at Wilson and 120. Mr. Powell has proven over the last 3 years, since he was caught in July 2019, that he’s unwilling to play by the rules. It’s time to get the Lake County Health Department, the Illinois EPA, the State’s Attorney or whomever else we can find to move forward with prosecution. I don’t have those resources or connections, I don’t know those names. But I truly hope that somewhere, someone reading this will find a way to get the right people to help our community end this nightmare. The good news is, given this bit of information included in the FOIA request, things seem to be heading in the right direction.
As I stated in my public comment on August 15, entering relationships with others is about trust. Whether business or personal, you need to trust someone before you give them money, leave them alone with your child, or perform heart surgery. In all these situations, you do your research, ask for references, do background checks, and seek opinions from others who know that person and can tell you about their reputation, past projects or clients.
You wouldn’t trust someone under investigation for bank fraud with your money, and I doubt you’d hire someone once arrested for child neglect to babysit your kids. Why is the Village entertaining the idea of doing more business with a guy actively violating Lake County Health Department and Illinois EPA rules on their own property when his fantasy idea is hundreds of times larger than the operation he’s currently running?
Maybe it’s not insanity we need to worry about in our elected, or appointed, leaders. It could be ignorance or just plain stupidity. The problem is ignorance can be cured. Stupidity is forever.