Coal mine reimbursement for legal costs on Homer agenda

HOMER — Homer Village Board members on Monday night will discuss the water request for Sunrise Coal's proposed Bulldog mine.

But the board likely won't make any decisions other than possibly finalizing how the coal company would reimburse the village's costs in determining whether it can legally sell water to the coal mine.

Homer Mayor David Lucas said the village hopes to hire a special municipal utility attorney by early next week. He said the village has contacted four or five such attorneys. And the village is still finalizing a written reimbursement agreement between the village and Sunrise.

Lucas said that agreement may be ready for board action at Monday night's village board meeting at 7 p.m. at the village hall, 500 E. Second St., Homer.

At a special village board meeting on Sept. 26, village and coal mine officials discussed the basics of an agreement in which Sunrise would put up to $50,000 in an account that the village could draw on to pay the legal expenses of hiring the special attorney that will do the research for an opinion on whether the village can sell water to the coal mine. Sunrise officials asked that they be notified prior to any withdrawals from the account. Board members do not want to saddle the village with legal and other expenses up front before deciding whether to sell water to the coal mine.

Sunrise Coal, based in Terre Haute, Ind., has asked Homer, in Champaign County, to supply water to its proposed Bulldog coal mine, which would be an underground operation in Vermilion County. Homer is considering the request for hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw water in addition to potable water and sewer services, which Sunrise would pay the village to provide on an annual basis.

Lucas said Friday that the reimbursement agreement is still in draft form and attorneys for the village and coal mine are trying to get a final document on which everyone can agree. He said village board members want an agreement that covers the village's costs but still gives board members objectivity in making decisions in regard to the water request. He said the agreement needs to reflect that Sunrise's covering the village's costs does not mean the company is controlling the village board's decision.

Lucas said hopefully the special attorney can be hired early next week and that person can research a legal opinion quickly enough for the village board to hold another special meeting in about two weeks to consider that opinion and whether the village moves forward with the water request or not.

If the board decides it has legal authority, Lucas said, the next steps would be to hire private experts to determine the capacity of the aquifer north of Homer from which the village pulls some of its water supply and whether it would be adequate to fill the mine's request. Also, he said, the village would have to decide whether it would consider pulling water from exclusively from the aquifer, exclusively from the nearby Salt Fork River or both.

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Sid Saltfork wrote on October 06, 2012 at 7:10 pm

The national law firm of Cheetum, and Howe will represent the coal company.