Economic benefits

The McHenry County College chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society for two year colleges, undertook a project to understand the economic impact of gravel mining in McHenry County Illinois. The project has proven to be enlightening and will result in sustaining benefits for students.

Phi Theta Kappa was founded in 1918. The McHenry County College chapter has been active for over 30 years. In any given semester, around 100 students are qualified for membership, about 20-30 of which are active members who participate in a variety of activities. Honor society member Joseph Bilodeau contacted representatives of the McHenry County Gravel Advisory Council in the fall of 2013 seeking information about the economic impact of gravel mining in the area. While attending a meeting of the Council, he outlined his Chapter’s plans for the project. Council members provided information about mining in the County and students were offered a tour of Meyer Material Company’s mining operations. 

According to faculty adviser Heidi Boring, Phi Theta Kappa students’ project on the gravel mining industry became their 2013 Honors in Action project. Students are asked to review the Honors Program Guide, which last year was titled the Culture of Competition (the Guide can be found here: 

Joseph and his fellow students chose Theme 5, Competition and Geography. They focused their attention on research questions related to how local resources affect the economy of an area. Project participants are expected to use at least eight resources in their research and identify a need in the community then develop a project to meet that need. 
In January, Phi Theta Kappa members submitted their report to Phi Theta Kappa’s International Headquarters and entered an academic competition along with 1300 other chapters from around the world. These McHenry County College students will find out at the end of April, while attending the International Convention, if they have won an award for this project.

Through this research, honor students discovered that aggregate mining was a large part of the McHenry County economy. They were also interested in how aggregate mining might negatively affect the environment or residential areas near mining sites. McHenry County College faculty Kate Kramer, Instructor of Earth Science, and Kim Hankins, Director of Sustainability, addressed this and other topics in meetings with students.

They explored potential dangers of mining, such as groundwater contamination, but also pointed out that, compared to many other mining industries, aggregate mining is relatively benign. Students found that there has never been a case of groundwater contamination in the County since monitoring began. They also learned that mining companies make a concerted effort to contain noise, dust, and debris to minimize the effect on surrounding residential areas. In addition, mining companies are required to provide a reclamation plan for areas where they mine. While they began their research wondering if mining may be harmful to surrounding areas, they discovered that aggregate mining is a relatively safe industry which has a positive effect on McHenry County’s economy.

While Kate Kramer was working with these students, she asked if they would like to use a display case in the hallway of the Geology department to present their findings. She hoped that this display could be used to educate earth science students about the geology of the local area. The display contains facts and statistics about the local gravel mining industry, maps of gravel deposits in the area, pictures of mining sites, and photos of reclaimed areas. It also contains a model “core sample” made with an acrylic tube and materials from the students’ field trip to Meyer Material Company in Algonquin.