HOMER — Homer village officials decided Monday night to determine whether they can legally provide water to Sunrise Coal's proposed mine, and then to determine the capacity of the village's underground wells near Ogden.
More than 45 people filled the lobby of the Homer village hall for the village board's water committee meeting that was completely dedicated to discussion of a request from Terre Haute, Ind., based Sunrise Coal to supply water to its proposed coal mine. The mine would be in Vermilion and Champaign counties with the surface operation on 400 acres southeast of Homer and north of Sidell.
Sunrise Coal's request is for 325,000 gallons of water a day initially and eventually 540,000 gallons of water a day. The village's own water use is about 120,000 gallons a day.
Several people spoke at the beginning of the meeting, including three residents who live in rural areas outside Homer and have concerns that a water withdrawal of that magnitude could affect their wells.
One of the three, Jeff Ward, lives on about seven acres near the proposed site of the surface operation. He told village board members that he believes the mine's water use would put the water supply in the area in jeopardy especially for those using wells for their drinking water supply, and said there's also the risk that his well could become polluted. Another of the three, John Ashbrook, told village board members that the water issue is not confined to the village but also affects families that depend on underground wells. He said a petition drive in opposition to the mine so far has 250 signatures, although not all of those people live in Homer.
After public comments, the committee moved forward with its meeting, discussing with water Superintendent Rob Boyer the known capacity of the village's own wells and briefly discussing some other possible sources of water, including the village's sewer plant, the Salt Fork River and a rock quarry that has bodies of water. Boyer said it would cost roughly $2 million to build infrastructure to get water from the river to a point where it could be accessed by the coal mine. He said one idea was building a lagoon where water from the river could be collected and the mine could pull water from it.
Eventually, the water committee decided it would recommend to the village board at its Aug. 13 meeting that the village first authorize a legal review of water sales and authorize the Illinois State Water Survey to determine the capacity of the aquifer that the village's Ogden-area wells use. The village knows that its older wells on the west side of town can produce about 120,000 gallons a day and no more, but doesn't know the capacity of the aquifer for its northern wells.
The committee decided that spending money on other efforts, such as a study to determine if there is more water the village could tap into to the north and the west, is not prudent until the village answers legal questions. The committee decided that authorizing a study of the capacity of the aquifer connected to its Ogden wells would be useful information for the village long-term, regardless of Sunrise's request.
Mayor David Lucas said the village has told Sunrise that this could be a six-month process to study this request in a systematic way with ample research. He said the coal company also is not opposed to helping with some of the costs of researching this request.