HOMER — With treated water and sewer services agreed to, Sunrise Coal now moves on to securing a source for hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw water per day for its proposed Bulldog coal mine.
The Terra Haute, Ind., company wants to develop an underground coal mine in western Vermilion County, about 5 miles from Homer. Sunrise has been actively planning the coal mine for two years and has been courting the village for water services for about a year.
But if the Champaign County community of 1,200 people wants to provide untreated water too, a new mayor and new village board will have to make that decision.
With the April 9 municipal election quickly approaching, current Mayor David Lucas and the current village board have only one more meeting together in April. The newly elected village board members will be sworn in at the May meeting.
On Tuesday, Lucas said he will not bring up a raw-water proposal at the April meeting. He said one of the trustees could still bring it up, but whether such an agreement is actually pursued will not be decided with him as mayor or by the current village board.
"It will fall to the new mayor to determine how we want to proceed," said Lucas, who is running for one of the trustee positions but not for mayor. Current Trustee Ray Cunningham, who voted in favor of the treated-water agreement, is running unopposed for mayor. Lucas and five others are running for three open trustee spots on the board.
In addition to Lucas, incumbents Roy Woodmansee, Larry Mingee and Kevin Knott are also candidates for the five trustee spots in addition to newcomers Billy Mitchell and Susan Forsyth. Forsyth has spoken against the proposed water agreements and the coal mine at Homer Village Board meetings.
Regardless the outcome of the April 9 election, it appears there's no way the village board will look the same.
At the close of Monday night's village board meeting when the trustees voted 4-3 to sell Sunrise up to 20,000 gallons of day of treated water plus sewer services, Knott submitted his letter of resignation, effective immediately.
Knott, who had voted against the agreement with Sunrise, said he was fed up with everything around the process. Knott publicly criticized Lucas at Monday night's meeting for posting a statement on the village's website and Facebook, encouraging people to contact Knott and the other trustees who originally voted against the water contract, in an attempt to persuade them to change their votes.
One of the trustees, Mike Johnson, did just that, changing his no vote on Feb. 11 — when the proposed agreement with Sunrise was defeated — to a yes vote Monday night, and propelling the contract to a 4-3 passage, to the dismay of Knott and the two other trustees, Woodmansee and Guy James, who voted no and thought the issue was over.
Along with his resignation letter, Knott also submitted to the village clerk a statement that if he is elected April 9, he will immediately resign. Lucas said in that case, the new mayor would appoint someone to fill Knott's seat for two years.
Suzanne Jaworowski, communications director for Sunrise, said the company is still evaluating several sources for its non-potable water supply, but the original request for raw water that was submitted to Homer in June still stands. The request is for 325,000 gallons a day initially and would increase to 540,000 gallons a day as the mine ramps up production. The raw water is used to wash the coal.
"But honestly, they have not addressed it at all," Jaworowski said of Homer officials. "But it's not as if we rescinded it."
Jaworowski said she would not disclose the sources they are considering for the non-potable water. She said securing the treated water and sewer services took longer than the company expected, so Sunrise hopes to move through this next step as quickly as possible.
"We are looking at different alternatives, and we will be in talks with (Homer) soon enough. We are just looking at all different sources right now," she said.
She said Sunrise is glad to have the treated water and sewer contract complete.
"We also want to be clear that the re-vote was not our doing," she said. "This was completely an organic movement from the board and residents in Homer, and they decided they didn't want this opportunity to pass them by. They were the ones who created the re-vote movement and not us. It speaks to the support that wasn't very vocal but was in the area."