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Village email indicates annexation not legal

The construction debris landfill east of town was annexed in 2009. A village email indicates the annexation may not have been legal.
The construction debris landfill east of town was annexed in 2009. A village email indicates the annexation may not have been legal.

In 2009, the village of Sheridan annexed a property east of town where a construction debris landfill was planned. Its legality is under question.

The property is on 4201st Road northeast of Sheridan. It is about 1,200 feet away from the village limit, according to maps in La Salle County's databases.

In limited cases under state law, a town can annex land not connected to municipal boundaries, but none of those exceptions appear to apply to the 4201st landfill.

Until recently, the landfill was operated by a company owned by Branko Vardijan, a Chicago businessman.

Don McNelis, who lives near the landfill on 4201st, said he was inside a Sheridan store in 2013 when someone placed a copy of what appears to be a village email related to the annexation on the front seat of his unlocked pickup truck.

The email is listed as being sent on Dec. 6, 2011, from the village's main account to Richard Burton, the village's attorney.

In the message, it said Kenny Thompson, Sheridan-based Mission Township's road commissioner, was "stirring up BS" about a proposed annexation.

The email said the police chief would meet with the attorney later in the week about the issue, "but don't we need to fix the Vardijan thing first?"

"If it gets out that this is not a legal annexation and the other annexations take place, that's 3 illegal annexations," the email said. "I say we need to fix it now before it ends up being way worse..."

The email did not say why the "Vardijan thing" was illegal. It also did not indicate who in village government sent the email. But the email account in question is now under the control of the village clerk. In late 2011, the clerk was Shelly Figgins; she now is village president.

Figgins and Burton didn't return numerous messages for comment on the Vardijan annexation.

In an interview, Thompson said he recalled discussing an annexation with the village clerk. As for the 4201st annexation, he is among the critics.

"Everyone asks what the village gets out of it. No one can answer that," he said.

After receiving a copy of the 2011 email, McNelis submitted an open records request to the village government seeking the email itself as well as any responses.

In a written response, the village said it could find no such emails after a "diligent search," including the one McNelis had already obtained.

McNelis provided The Times a copy of a speech he said he gave during public input at a January 2015 Village Board meeting.

"The Village Board has been asked many times, 'Is the village annexation of the Vardijan property on 4201st Road a legal annexation?' Village Attorney Richard Burton has always answered yes," McNelis said in the documentation. "The Village Board on numerous occasions has been asked if it is contiguous. Village attorney Richard Burton has answered yes."

According to the January 2015 meeting minutes, when McNelis asked the village to show evidence the annexation was legal, Burton responded Sheridan had an annexation agreement with Vardijan that provides land use authority with the village.

The 2009 resolution adopted by the Sheridan board stated the 4021st annexation was contiguous to the village.

'Lost out on thousands'

During a 2008 Sheridan Zoning Board meeting, Vardijan said if the land were brought into village limits, it would be more advantageous to both Vardijan and the village without involving the county, according to meeting minutes. It was easier to work with one jurisdiction, rather than several, Vardijan told the board.

In September, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency alleged Vardijan's annexation violated regulations for clean construction debris at the two landfills. According to the agency, contaminants that pose a threat to groundwater were present in soil used as fill material at the landfill.

Earlier this year, the Sheridan board enacted an ordinance that gives the village the ability to regulate clean construction debris landfills.

In January, Nebraska-based Guardian Tax, which specializes in purchases of tax-delinquent properties, told Vardijan's company, Sheridan-Joliet Land Development, to leave the 4201st property in 30 days. The company had been delinquent on property taxes for a number of years.

According to county assessor's office records, Guardian Tax now owns the property. Loads of construction debris are no longer being taken to the property, McNelis said.

McNelis and other residents wonder why the Village Board didn't assess tipping fees in return for issuing special-use permits for the landfills. Such fees are assessed for loads of construction debris waste deposited at landfills, which residents said is the village's right to collect under state law.

"They have lost out on thousands of dollars in tipping fees," McNelis said in an interview.

'Kind of a mess'

Village Board member Randy McMurray wasn't on the board when the landfills were approved. But he supports charging tipping fees.

"Their permit is up in the next year. That would be the time to get tipping fees," McMurray said in an interview.

He described the situation with the landfills as "kind of a mess." He said residents are understandably concerned with anything that could affect their water supply, saying they want to avoid a "Wedron deal."

McMurray was referring to the groundwater contamination in Wedron, an unincorporated La Salle County town nine miles to Sheridan's southwest. Wedron residents have seen big drops in their property values as the result of the contamination, which regulators believe came from an old gas station.

Because of the landfill problems, McMurray said, Sheridan is monitoring water quality.

"We're trying to regulate the landfills," he said. "Residents think we can close the gates. Our lawyer tells us we can't."

McMurray said he isn't sure why the annexation for the 4201st landfill was not connected to the municipality.

Vardijan didn't return a message for comment.

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