AG's office files complaint against owner of Douglas County mine

MURDOCK — The Illinois attorney general’s office has filed a complaint with the Illinois Pollution Control Board alleging that a private company that took over the reclamation of the idled Murdock Mine in Douglas County has polluted the air and a stream near the site because of improper disposal of waste from various places in Illinois, including Champaign-Urbana, Decatur and Danville.

The complaint was filed late last week, alleging one count of water pollution and one count of air pollution against Alpena Vision Resources, a Michigan-based limited liability company authorized to do business in Illinois, including the disposal of waste at the Murdock Mine in Douglas County.

Alpena has been accepting approved types of waste, including lime sludge from the Decatur and Danville water-treatment plants; sludge from the Urbana Champaign Sanitary District; and gypsum, a lactic acid by-product, from Archer Daniels Midland Co. in Decatur, among other types of waste from other places in Illinois.

But the complaint alleges that Alpena has not handled the waste in a manner that complies with its permits, causing water and air pollution.

Maggie Carson with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency said her agency had received allegations of improper disposal of various types of waste at the Murdock Mine site. The IEPA did an inspection of the site, she said, made a determination and issued a violation notice to Alpena, alleging that the company improperly disposed of waste.

Scott Mulford with the Illinois attorney general’s office said the IEPA notified the attorney general, which led to the filing of the complaint, which calls for the revocation of the company’s permits. He said there are also possible civil penalties of $50,000 per the two alleged violations and possible daily penalties for each day the violations continue.

According to the complaint filed by the attorney general, Alpena’s office is in Chicago. The News-Gazette was unable to reach officials with Alpena for comment on the allegations.

The Prairie Rivers Network and residents who live near the Murdock Mine plan to hold a press conference today near the mine to talk about the pollution complaints residents have made to the IEPA and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources regarding the Murdock Mine site.

According to a Prairie Rivers news release, the Murdock Mine illustrates how the state agencies have allowed an unreclaimed coal mine to be used as a non-permitted landfill for a wide range of municipal and industrial wastes.

“The mine permitting groups within the respective agencies should not be authorized with permitting sewage disposal at mine sites,” the release states. “Mine sites, like the one at Murdock, are not designed to meet landfill performance standards.”

At least 10 years ago, mining of coal ceased at the Murdock Mine, which had been owned by Ziegler Coal Co. at one time, and later by Old Ben Coal Co. before Alpena Visions Resources took control of it several years ago.

In the attorney general’s 28-page complaint filed with the pollution control board, several permits were issued for the use of or disposal of various types of waste at the Murdock Mine site, including a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit in 2010 that allowed the discharge of “acid mine drainage” from the mine site into an unnamed tributary to Brushy Fork. The NPDES permit limits the levels of iron, manganese, sulfates and total suspended solids in the discharge and requires monitoring and reporting of the discharge.

But, according to the complaint, Alpena stockpiled and stored those permitted waste materials, including coal combustion waste, sludge, pollution control waste and industrial process waste in ways that have created a water pollution hazard.

The complaint alleges water and air pollution. In regard to air pollution, the complaint states that since assuming responsibility for the reclamation of the Murdock Mine site, Alpena has allowed the emission of dust and unpleasant odors through its storage, handling, disposal and use of wastes. The complaint adds that the dust and odors have occurred frequently during 2011 and 2012, “and in sufficient quantities and of such characteristics and duration as to be injurious to health, or to unreasonably interfere with the enjoyment of life or property by neighboring residents.”

And in regard to the water pollution allegation, the complaint describes the following alleged violations:

— Since February 2007, “Alpena has caused or allowed discharge of contaminants from the Murdock Mine site to the unnamed tributary to Brushy Fork so as to cause or tend to cause water pollution. These repeated discharges from the Murdock Mine site have likely created a nuisance or rendered such waters harmful or detrimental or injurious to agricultural, recreational, or other legitimate uses, or to livestock, wild animals, birds, fish or other aquatic life.”

— Since at least February 2007, Alpena has caused or allowed the discharge of solids, floating debris, visible scum or sludge solids from the Murdock Mine site to the unnamed tributary to Brushy Fork, causing “offensive conditions.”

— Since at least October 2004, “Alpena has caused or allowed contaminated water from the Murdock Mine site’s collection system to pond, or pool, near the border of the site in such a place and manner so as to create a water pollution hazard.”

— Alpena has accepted more than 12,000 tons of bio-solids material from the Urbana Champaign Sanitary District when its permit allows only 12,000 tons.

— Alpena has failed to submit required annual and quarterly reports.

— Since at least February 2007, Alpena has discharged contaminants from the Murdock Mine site to the tributary to Brushy Fork without complying with the NPDES permit.

Connie Newman, spokeswoman with the state pollution control board, said she could not comment specifically on the complaint against Alpena.

She said the board will review the complaint, ensure it meets all technical legal requirements, and if it does, will accept the complaint.

And if the matter is not settled by the two parties, then a “court-like” hearing process will begin that includes discovery and the presentation of witnesses and evidence by both sides. Eventually, a hearing officer turns over a completed record of the case, which is reviewed by the pollution control board, and the board makes a final determination.

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