Snag pops up in coal company's water request in Homer

Snag pops up in coal company's water request in Homer

HOMER — Discussions over Sunrise Coal's request for treated water from the village of Homer hit a snag Thursday night over who will own the approximately five miles of water and sewer lines between the proposed mine site and the village limits.

And mine officials said Thursday their initial request for treated water was a minimum amount and that the company eventually might want as much as five to 10 times that amount.

Sunrise Coal, based in Terre Haute, Ind., has already agreed with contract language requiring the company to pay for construction of the five miles of lines to Homer. But Thursday night, Sunrise officials proposed that the water lines immediately be turned over to the village.

Homer village Attorney Paul Hendren said that was a "substantial variance" in earlier versions of the agreement.

Sunrise officials said turning over lines to the village keeps Sunrise solely a customer, which it prefers, because it has no intention of being in the water business. Sunrise officials said maintenance of the new lines, which are estimated to cost about $3 million, would be nominal and would be an advantage to the village to own because it could add other water customers in that area. Sunrise officials said they have never wanted to own the lines and agreed to pay for the lines, realizing the village could never recoup the cost of constructing them on its own.

Hendren said this proposal was a surprise to him and one that he feels has not been adequately researched and could open the village up to more financial and liability risk. Hendren said previously it had been discussed that the village would have the option of taking over the lines in the future if it wanted but not be obligated to take ownership as soon as they are constructed.

Sunrise Coal has asked Homer to supply its proposed Bulldog mine in southwestern Vermilion County with treated water and sewer services as well as 325,000 to 500,000 gallons of untreated water a day that would be used in the coal-mining process. The village of Homer, which gets its water from underground wells west and north of the village near Ogden, has been considering the request in two parts: one agreement for treated water and sewer services and another agreement for the raw water. The board is still hashing out the first agreement.

Also a surprise Thursday night was the amount of treated water the coal mine would need.

Sunrise officials clarified Thursday night that the initial request for 2,000 to 4,000 gallons of treated water per day was a minimum amount.

Sunrise officials said the maximum amount of treated water would be 20,000 gallons a day. Coal mine officials said that as the mine operation ramps up, more treated water would be necessary after the first couple years. The estimated amounts given at Thursday's meeting are based on six years of operation at Sunrise Coal's Indiana mine.

Sunrise officials said their Indiana mine uses an average of 13,000 gallons of treated water a day.

The entire village of Homer uses about 120,000 gallons a day, according to village officials.

Village Trustee Roy Woodmansee asked the village attorneys if a request for 20,000 gallons a day is an "outrageous" amount. Special municipal attorney James A. Rhodes said it is up to the village board to decide how much it wants to supply to the coal mine.

Sunrise officials told the committee that the 2,000 to 4,000 gallons was provided initially as a minimum to show the village that the mine would need no less than that amount, which is a volume that would be worth the village's time to consider doing the project.

The water requests have stirred controversy among residents concerned with how a high level of water extraction might affect underground aquifers that supply drinking water to private wells in the area, as well as to Homer and Ogden, and how it might affect the nearby Salt Fork River.

Though no specifics have been proposed, village officials have discussed meeting the Sunrise request with water discharged from the village's new sewer treatment plant, water from its underground wells north of the village and water from the Salt Fork River.

The Prairie Rivers Network, a nonprofit advocacy group that works to protect Illinois' rivers and streams, has been working with local residents who oppose the water request and the mine. And in September, the Ogden Village Board delivered a letter officially notifying Homer that Ogden is opposed to the sale of water to Sunrise.

The water committee met in front of another packed house at the village hall, and several Homer-area residents spoke at the beginning of the meeting asking that the village board not approve any agreement, even one for potable water and sewer services, with Sunrise Coal.

The water committee and Sunrise officials and attorneys for both sides hashed out several final issues Thursday night, working on the fourth and possibly final draft of a potable water and sewer agreement Thursday night, including rates the village would charge Sunrise and who would own the water and sewer lines that would be built and other issues. If the two sides get the ownership and other final issues worked out, then a final draft of the agreement will go to the full village board at its Jan. 14 meeting.

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rsp wrote on January 04, 2013 at 6:01 am

There is a reason they are stringing the information out a little at a time. As you get used to the little you accept it more and more. You stop seeing the big picture of what is really going on. 

lexdvdt wrote on January 04, 2013 at 8:01 am

The light may be dawning on Homer board members, but it's not coming from Sunrise!

tbarkley wrote on January 04, 2013 at 11:01 am

Important also to know that Sunrise Coal has been publicly lowballing the volume of raw water they need for washing coal.  Materials Prairie Rivers Network received from Village of Homer files through a Freedom of Information Act request that shows they are looking for 720,000 to 1,008,000 gallons per day- much more than the 350,000 gallons per day that is currently being used in discussion.  This is 5% of the flow of the Salt Fork and there is potential for this to greatly increase by the time they reach maximum operation levels.  

Also wondering how the Homer Village Board can vote on a proposed contract at the Jan 14th meeting without a recommendation from the Water Committee?