No final draft of water agreement yet in Homer

No final draft of water agreement yet in Homer

HOMER — Village board members hope to meet next week to vote on an agreement with Sunrise Coal for treated water and sewer services for a proposed coal mine, but a final draft of the agreement is not yet in the hands of board members, according to Mayor David Lucas.

He said the hope is to have an agreement that can be published on the village board's website for public review prior to a special meeting next week. The goal laid out at the last village board meeting was for the attorneys on both sides to have a final draft of an agreement by Friday, so the village board could hold a special meeting Monday night to consider that agreement for approval.

Sunrise Coal, based in Terre Haute, Ind., has asked the village to supply its proposed underground coal mine in Vermilion County with treated water and sewer services. The village board members and Sunrise officials and their attorneys have been negotiating a proposed agreement for the last several months. The coal company has also asked Homer to provide the mine with more than 300,000 gallons of untreated water per day and 540,000 gallons per day as the mine ramps up operation. That water would be used in the actual mining process, but the village board has delayed discussion on that request until it deals with the treated water and sewer services.

Even if the village board approves an agreement with Sunrise next week, the coal company has a long way to go before its proposed Bulldog coal mine gets a green light for development.

The mine still must determine its source of raw water, must complete the state's permitting process, which could include a public hearing, and also may have to go through Champaign County's planning and zoning process.

John Hall, director of Champaign County's department of planning and zoning, said he sent letters to Homer village and coal company officials in April when he first became aware of the water and sewer services proposal, so they would be aware that zoning would apply outside the village of Homer in certain situations. And on Dec. 10, Hall said he met with Sunrise officials to discuss the process, but he has not seen an actual plan yet.

Speaking in general, Hall said any development outside Homer's village limits is subject to zoning, unless there's an annexation agreement with Homer.

"I can't say anything definite, but if there is some kind of construction outside the village of Homer, that's not covered by an annexation agreement, then it has to comply with our zoning ordinances," said Hall, who explained that construction is literally anything, even an underground well or water intake from the Salt Fork River.

The village and coal mine officials have not confirmed potential sources for the raw water request, but village officials have mentioned the possibility of establishing an underground well, using the discharged water from the village's sewer plant and pulling water from the nearby Salt Fork River.

Hall said a water line that's in the right of way is a different matter, particularly if that line is in an existing easement; then it probably would be exempt from zoning. But land that's not in an existing right of way or an easement across private land would have to go through the zoning process.

In the case of a well or withdrawal from the river, Hall said, Champaign County has a land resource management plan, so zoning officials would be considering, for example, how a large withdrawal of water could affect other users, wells close by, and in the case of the river, how a withdrawal could affect inhabitants of the river. Consideration would be dependent, according to Hall, on the extent of information it could get on those issues.

Although Sunrise has submitted permitting documentation to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the permit process has not yet begun, because the application has not been deemed administratively complete, according to Chris McCloud, spokesman for the department. McCloud said he doesn't have a timetable for when that review will be complete, but the department's "Mines and Minerals staff works as quickly as possible to review applications without sacrificing thoroughness."

According to the Natural Resources' website, mine applications are reviewed by the department for administrative completeness, and an administratively complete application is one that "the Department determines to contain information addressing each application requirement of the regulatory program and to contain all information necessary to initiate processing and public review." The permit process can't begin until the application is administratively complete, according to IDNR.

Once an application is complete, a review process begins that includes copies of the application being sent to county clerks where the mine is proposed, notices being placed in local newspapers and the department notifying various federal and local governmental bodies, planning agencies, sewage and water district authorities, and water companies near the proposed mine. Copies of the application are forwarded to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture, which have 45 days to review the application and make comments, and the public can submit written comments, request an informal conference with Natural Resources and request a public hearing. Department officials consider all the comments in the final decision, which could be to issue, deny, or require modifications to the application.

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