HOMER -- In a straw poll vote Monday night, six Homer village board members were split on a proposed water contract with Sunrise Coal company.
Mayor David Lucas voted yes, breaking the 3-3 tie, and propelling forward final negotiations on a contract for treated water and sewer services for Sunrise's proposed Bulldog coal mine in Vermilion County.
The straw poll vote came at the end of a two-hour meeting in which the village board and Sunrise officials and their attorneys haggled over several final details of a proposed contract for treated water and sewer services for the proposed mine, which means more changes to contract language and eliminated any possibility of an official, final vote on the contract Monday night. Sunrise, based in Terre Haute, Ind., has asked the village to provide it with treated water and sewer services for its mine as well as hundreds of thousands of gallons per day of raw water. The board did not discuss the raw water request at all Monday night as it's focusing solely on a contract for treated water and sewer services.
Lucas told the village board members Monday night that he wanted to take a straw poll vote to see where the board members are on the proposed Sunrise contract. Negotiations to this point have exhausted the $50,000 Sunrise put in an account to cover the village's attorney fees.
Lucas said there's no point extending that attorney reimbursement agreement with Sunrise and compiling more legal costs if the board is not in support of the terms of the contract at this point.
A standing-room-only crowd of mostly Homer residents squeezed into the village hall meeting area, and several spoke out against selling water and against the mine. Several held signs against the coal mine. During public comments, one area resident asked how many in the crowd were against the mine; more than half the audience raised their hands.
Attorney Steve Beckett, representing local residents against the water agreements, spoke during public comments. He said the prime interest in the area is agriculture, and farmers have concerns about drainage, wells and the future of their farm ground. He said there are other examples in the past in Champaign County in which companies talked of bringing jobs and economic development to an area, and villages make investments and those companies don't follow through.
"The decision you are making involves a broader community than just Homer," he said. "I would hate for Homer to be remembered as another Murdock."
The attorneys for the village and Sunrise will make the final changes discussed Monday night and submit a final contract agreement to the village by Jan. 25, which will be reviewed by the village board members before they take an official vote on the contract at a meeting to be determined. Sunrise officials wanted a final contract by the end of the week, but the village's two attorneys said that timeline would not be possible, so they agreed to Jan. 25.
In their two hours of final negotiations, Sunrise officials and village board members agreed to several issues, including one of the recent sticking points, ownership of the five miles of water and sewer lines between the mine and Homer. The mine wanted to turn ownership of the lines over to the village, but conceded Monday night to retaining ownership of the lines. In return, the mine officials did not want to pay a higher rate than other water customers in Homer, and the village board agreed to that.
However, the sides agreed that in 2016 the ownership and rate terms of the contract will be reviewed for any major changes.