Sunrise: Homer water vote won't delay coal mine

Sunrise: Homer water vote won't delay coal mine

HOMER — A day after the village board voted against selling water and sewer services to Sunrise Coal for its proposed mine, the company says the project will proceed as planned.

And the village trustee who changed his vote to a no says it had nothing to do with an anonymous threat he received and everything to do with being unable to support a coal mine.

Trustee Mike Johnson said an anonymous letter he received last month threatening him as a public official "had absolutely nothing to do" with his voting no. Johnson had voted yes in a straw poll vote in January, but in the official vote Monday night, he and two other trustees voted against the water contract, making it impossible for the proposal to get the necessary four yes votes from among the six board members present. The other two trustees voted no in the January straw poll.

"I just hope people don't think that's why I voted 'no,'" said Johnson, referring to the threatening letter. He said after touring Sunrise's mine in Indiana last year and seeing the slurry ponds and coal-waste piles, which were generating dust in the winds that day, he "pretty much didn't want to support the coal mine."

He said he told Sue Smith, a rural Homer resident opposed to the water and sewer agreement and coal mine, in a conversation with her three months ago that he was going to vote no, and the threatening letter didn't come to his house until weeks after that.

According to a Homer police report, the letter came in the mail to Johnson's house on Jan. 2 and had been mailed in Ogden.

The letter states: "We do know that you have some unsavory history in your income matters, that would be in your best interests if it was not reported to the proper authorities. Perhaps you should consider this information in placing your vote! Please be assured that that information will be passed along, should you chose to vote 'for' the sale of our precious water to these people."

And it's signed "Concerned citizens."

Johnson, who is a senior partner in an investment group and real estate business, said he has no clue what the letter is talking about, and he has nothing to hide in his business.

Johnson said he was the only no vote early on in the process when the village was deciding whether to move forward with contract negotiations and enter into a reimbursement agreement in which Sunrise would pay the village's legal costs. Johnson said he didn't even want to get in the coal mine's pocket at that point.

"I was hoping the whole thing would die right there," he said. But the board approved moving forward with negotiations, and Johnson said at the time of the straw poll vote he felt it was right to go ahead and get a final contract in writing that could be voted up or down later.

In reference to Monday night's final vote, Johnson said he couldn't support the coal mine and that included the village of Homer supplying water and sewer services to it.

Suzanne Jaworowski, communications director for Sunrise Coal, said it's unfortunate the company wasn't able to create a partnership with the village, because it would have been "a win-win."

But, she said, the project will proceed as planned, and the company has other alternatives to obtain the treated water and sewer services and raw water it will need for the planned Bulldog coal mine. Jaworowski would not disclose any details about the company's alternative water plans. She said the company still has more than 19,000 acres under lease, involving about 100 property owners. Most of the leased land is in southwestern Vermilion County.

"We appreciate all the village of Homer did to consider working on this. They gave it careful consideration, and we respect their vote, and we will move forward with the additional options we have in place," she said, adding that this won't set back the time line.

She said the company still plans to have its permit with the state approved this year and to start operations next year.

"This is not the end of the line. It's an obstacle, but not a deal breaker," she said.

For Homer, it may mean increasing water rates in the community.

Mayor David Lucas said after Monday night's meeting that without the additional revenue that would have been generated by the coal company purchasing treated water, the village will have to consider increasing its water rates. Homer residents currently pay $3.15 per 1,000 gallons of water, and Lucas said those rates haven't increased in seven years, and the current water budget is running a deficit.

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Avalon wrote on February 13, 2013 at 10:02 am

     “ after touring Sunrise's mine in Indiana last year and seeing the slurry ponds and coal-waste piles, which were generating dust in the winds that day, he "pretty much didn't want to support the coal mine."  I'm  glad that Mr. Johnson voted with his conscience. There is no such thing as “clean coal”. Coal is an antiquated and dirty means of generating electricity. The technology exists to reduce our use of coal in Illinois. A blend of solar and wind technology along with natural gas or nuclear power to provide the base load  generation has the best long-term benefit.  I would suggest that if folks do not want the coal industry in their area then the demand for coal must be reduced. This can be done by producing energy at their home or business using solar or wind technology. In many parts of the US it is cheaper to produce power onsite with solar than buying power from the utilities.

   Energy production consumed 39% of all water supplied throughout the US and that figure does not include water needed in mining coal. Different types of electricity generation require differing amounts of water. Even renewable sources as photovoltaic solar and wind power require water in processing the raw materials to build the generation facility and in constructing and maintaining the plant. However no water is used while a wind turbine or solar module is producing energy. In contrast, in a survey done by the EPA, the average power plant withdraws anywhere from 100 to 250 million gallons per day.

cretis16 wrote on February 13, 2013 at 11:02 am

Sunrise should not hire anyone from Ogden. These are good jobs you let slip away...oh well, you got the windmill right?

Sid Saltfork wrote on February 13, 2013 at 1:02 pm

cretis.... cretis....;  Do you think that the person who sent the letter lives in Ogden because the letter was mailed from Ogden?  Do you think that a return address was on the envelope? Ogden is 5, or 7 miles up Rt. 49 from Homer.  If the writer of the letter lived in the Homer area, do you think that they would send the letter from Homer?  The writer could live in C-U, St. Joe, Danville, Catlin, or anywhere.  Just because the letter was mailed from Ogden, you blame everyone living in Ogden for the Homer village vote.  That is absurd.

By the way, where do you live that gives you the right to spout off about what the people in Homer decide to do regarding their community?  Who are you going to blame in a conspiracy next?  Oh... it will probably be President Obama, right. 

cretis16 wrote on February 13, 2013 at 3:02 pm

OH no we can't blame Obama, he gave us this wonderful economy. I realize you are a state employee but sometimes it doesnt make sense to go along with the politburo. These are real wage jobs you are losing, and since Sunrise will go ahead anyway, I don't think they will have a shortage of applications.

Sid Saltfork wrote on February 19, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Well, they will have a shortage of water.

SaintClarence27 wrote on February 13, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Since when is coal mining a good job? Are you crazy?

GeneralLeePeeved wrote on February 13, 2013 at 2:02 pm


If you want to be a proponent of wind power, that's your perogative.  However, you need to get your facts straight before you start touting it's virtues when compared to other types of electrical power.  First off, without the current government subsidy of over 2 cents per kwh, wind power wouldn't be economically competitive.  Secondly, and more to the point, I checked the study that your referenced.  Energy production is NOT responsible for consuming 39% of all water is simply responsible for that much being utilized (or withdrawn).  Actual consumption is only 3%, as the vast majority of the water used is returned to the various waterways and other sources from which it came. 

SaintClarence27 wrote on February 13, 2013 at 2:02 pm

i.e. "heated up," which causes its own issues.

syzlack wrote on February 13, 2013 at 8:02 pm

If the negative externalities (pollution, environmental damage, black lung, ruined water supplies, etc.) were fully priced in the final product of electricity, the economic competitiveness of coal plunges.  One delightful result of coal generating plants:  While the minimum keeper size of lake trout in Michigan is 22", the state warns that you should not eat any that are over 21".  Why?  Mercury concentration, largely from coal plants.  Coal is bad news all around.  Plus it does not generate that many jobs anymore.  It is now highly mechanized.

Avalon wrote on February 14, 2013 at 9:02 am

Thank you for the clarification. So if the water being discharged back to were it came from is fit for domestic use feel free to tap right in. It is called waste water for a reason. As far as government subsides for wind energy...I challenge government to eliminate subsidies to all energy production based industries. Only then you will find that renewables will provide the cheapest power. Remember...the fuel is free. Oh but I forgot, according to Fox news, the sun does not shine in the US so solar does not work not work: and the wind obviously does not blow here either.

dw wrote on February 13, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Actually due to Illinois passing a law allowing municipal electric aggregation (effectively allowing multiple communities to band together and negotiate for electricity prices as a group on the open market -- collective barganining), the cities of Champaign and Urbana have been providing 100% renewably-backed electricity to their consitutents for several months -- At approximately 2-cents or so per KWH *cheaper* than the default "dirty" rate from Ameren.

This is in wide use in Illinois, and it requires none of the up-front investment on the individual's part other than the time spent lobbying your city council/board to start partnering up.  It is truely a 'no brainer' -- saving green by being green.

If enough municipalities make the switch, the demand for coal will melt away.  Base load can be provided by means other than natural gas and nuclear -- biomass products such as miscanthus can potentially eventually replace coal, and coal plants can be adapted to burn a mix of biomass with coal.

pattsi wrote on February 13, 2013 at 10:02 am

Building upon the post by Avalon, there is also the aspect of using less energy. One of my concerns about electrical aggregation had to do with the focus on the bottom line, cost only, without any built in incentive to reduce use, which would increase the potential saving. My hypothesis is that a residental unit owner/renter will only be concerned that the monthly bill is no more than before aggregation rather than looking to reduce this amount by using less energy, electricity, to double the saving through cost and less useage.

I marvel each time when I arrive at Brookens for another evening meeting to see the computer monitors on when the occupant has left work for the day even though the county has an energy saving resolution. Yes, a computer monitor is a small item individually, but collectively over 18 buildings adds up. In addition, one might argue that the county as a whole is not modeling that conservation is an expectation, not just a resolution, and there is reason not to misspend tax payer dollars.

dw wrote on February 13, 2013 at 5:02 pm

There was also a focus by both cities on purchasing power from 100% green/renewable/sustainable suppliers.  From a marketing and "selling it" standpoint, this took a back seat to the OTHER green -- the green of your wallet.  While *I* would pay more for green energy, most wouldn't as they don't know the value.  In fact I *do* pay more now, as I was previously on the market rate program that did have a strong reduction component if you time-shifted your electricity use.  It would be ideal if we could get hourly market-rate/priced green electricity...

BUT that they were able to pull BOTH a cheaper bottom line AND green/sustainable/renewable off was amazing to me.  Big local government throwing its weight around for the common good.  It was *AWESOME*.

But I agree with you -- the order of the evironmentalists' litrgy is important: "reduce, reuse, recycle" should be done in that order.  However, if you're trying to convince those who do not place a priority on environmentalism it becomes "reduce my bill, blah-blah-blah don't care"  Don't give up on Brookens:  post a note on the empty office door with your contact info as a concerned citizen.  I often wonder where the recycling cans are at some of the Urbana public buildings -- but if you ask you may be surprised:  recycling containers have disappeared on the U of I quad (and other places) because it's *ALL* recycled -- every trash barrel on U of I property gets picked through.  I'm not saying that's true of Urbana city buildings, but boy would it be nice to hear!

OnlySanePersonInHomer wrote on February 15, 2013 at 6:02 pm