Homer board reverses vote on water, sewer services for coal mine
HOMER - Two weeks after denying the sale of treated water and sewer services to Sunrise Coal, the Homer village board passed the agreement by just one vote Monday night, to the dismay of some trustees and residents who spoke out against the process that brought the issue back to the board.
Trustee Roy Woodmansee, who has voted no in the past to selling Sunrise Coal's proposed Bulldog mine up to 20,000 gallons of treated water and sewer services, made two separate motions to table the request, and both failed 3-4.
The trustees then voted on the treated water request, which passed 4-3, with Mayor David Lucas breaking a 3-3 tie among the six trustees. The trustees who voted no were Woodmansee, Guy James and Kevin Knott, and those who voted yes were Lucas, Ray Cunningham, Larry Mingee and Mike Johnson -- the only trustee who changed his vote from two weeks ago when the request was defeated.
It took the village board almost two hours to reach the vote on the Sunrise contract. For 45 minutes, more than a dozen people made public comments, some asking the trustees to approve the contract for the economic benefit of Homer, and others asking the trustees to deny it to protect the environment and the water resources.
And for more than an hour, the village trustees had their own discussion, determining whether the village really does have a deficit in the water budget as the mayor has claimed, and also addressing comments Lucas had posted earlier in the week on the village website and Facebook. On those sites, Lucas had urged residents to contact the three trustees who voted no two weeks ago and ask them to bring the contract up for reconsideration, and he provided their names and contact information.
Two of those trustees, Knott and Woodmansee, told the mayor Monday night that they thought that his using the village's website to express his private opinion in support of the coal contract was wrong and unprofessional.
Johnson also addressed the audience Monday night before the vote. He said after some thought in the last two weeks, he had changed his mind. He told the audience that he doesn't want the coal mine in his back yard, but if it does come and Homer doesn't have a water and sewer contract, then "the village has nothing." He said not to blame the village trustees for the coal mine coming. He said landowners are the ones who have leased their land.
"We have nothing to do with that. We simply are considering selling them water," he said.
Chad Beckett, the attorney representing some of the Homer area landowners against the water sale, formally questioned the legality of the village board re-considering the agreement with Sunrise in an e-mail to the village's attorney Paul Hendren. An attorney from that law firm also spoke at the meeting, questioning how many times a body can vote on something and arguing that a board could do this repeatedly on every issue defeated. He called it a horrible way to do business.
But just prior to the vote, village attorney Hendren told the trustees that he forwarded Beckett's e-mail to the special attorney, James Rhodes in Chicago, and his advice was that the village could consider this contract again by an ordinance as a new action that did not have to be a technical reconsideration of the earlier vote if the coal company had renewed or continued its request for the contract. Determining that that is the case, Hendren said it wouldn't even require one of the three trustees who earlier voted no to formally ask for the issue to be re-considered.