Georgetown OKs water sale to coal mine quickly
GEORGETOWN — It took the Georgetown City Council only one meeting to approve a deal to provide Sunrise's Bulldog coal mine with 350,000 gallons of untreated water per day — a sharp contrast to the lengthy public negotiations in Homer over an agreement to supply the mine with a much smaller amount of treated water.
Although some details are yet to be hashed out by the two sides, the Georgetown council unanimously approved a 30-year water-supply contract with Sunrise Coal at its regular meeting Monday night in Georgetown.
Kay Sanders, Georgetown's newly elected mayor, did not return a phone call from the News-Gazette on Tuesday seeking comment on the agreement.
Suzanne Jaworowski, director of communications with Sunrise, said the coal company does not yet know exactly where the water supply line will go, how much it will cost to design and build, or how much it will pay the city for the raw water.
She said the company still needs to work out all the easements and real-estate issues for the water line. Once the line is operational, she said, Sunrise will turn over full ownership to the city but will be responsible for regular maintenance of it.
Sunrise will pay the regular residential water rate for the first year of the mine's operation, and within the next 90 days, the city and Sunrise will negotiate the company's rate for the next 29 years of the contract.
Jaworowski said that rate is expected to be less than the residential rate, because Sunrise is paying for the new infrastructure required to pump the hundreds of thousands of gallons of water per day from Georgetown to the mine's surface operation about 12 miles away and turning it over to the city.
Monday night was the first time a proposed agreement with Sunrise Coal was discussed at a full Georgetown City Council meeting. But city council members said Monday night that they had been speaking with coal company officials for weeks about the proposed water sale.
The agenda for Monday night's Georgetown council meeting did not identify the industrial sale of water listed on that document as a proposed agreement with Sunrise Coal.
The proposed Bulldog coal mine in southwestern Vermilion County and small portions of southeastern Champaign County has become a controversial issue with some residents in both counties, who are opposed to the mine for various environmental and other reasons. The Prairie Rivers Network also has been involved in the effort to stop the mine.
Traci Barkley with Prairie Rivers said that she and others opposed to the mine were unaware of and surprised by Monday night's agreement. However, she said, Sunrise still has a long way to go, because the proposed mine still needs rail access, additional mineral leases and state permits.
The proposed mine became more controversial last fall when Sunrise Coal, based in Terre Haute, Ind., began public negotiations with the village of Homer for a treated water supply and raw water supply. Multiple wells pull Homer's water supply from the Mahomet aquifer, and some local residents were concerned how a large water withdrawal would affect private wells in the area as well as the aquifer, which supplies other cities and villages with water.
Opponents of the mine also were concerned that Sunrise would pull water from the nearby Salt Fork River.
After lengthy negotiations and debate over several months, the Homer Village Board ultimately agreed to supply Sunrise with only treated water from its wells, so Sunrise officials went in search of another supplier for the 350,000-500,000 gallons per day of untreated water it needs for the coal-mining process.
The surface operation of the mine would be located about 5 miles from Homer.
Jaworowski said Homer was the company's first choice for a raw water supply, because it is closer than Georgetown.
"Homer was closer. It's a matter of money," she said, adding that the greater the distance, the more costly it is to supply the water, plus Homer seemed very interested initially. "But definitely Georgetown is going to work out very well."
Similar to its proposal in Homer, Sunrise has agreed to pay for the design and construction of the water line and other infrastructure to get the water from Georgetown to the mine, and then Sunrise will donate that infrastructure to the city. Jaworowski said Sunrise will be responsible for regular maintenance of the line, and the city hopes to pull in some new water customers along that line.
Georgetown's water supply comes from two wells over the state line in Indiana that pull water from the Wabash aquifer, which is the same source of water for Sunrise's coal mine in Carlisle, Ind.
According to Sunrise officials, Georgetown currently pumps about 250,000-300,000 gallons of water a day from its two wells through a system that's designed to pump up to 1 million gallons per day. According to Sunrise officials, they expect the mine to use up to 300,000 gallons of raw, or untreated, water per day in the early phase of the Bulldog mine and then up to 500,000 gallons per day during peak production.
In a news release from Sunrise on Tuesday, Robert Kohlhase, an engineer with Farnsworth Engineering who is contracted by the city of Georgetown, said this agreement makes sense for Georgetown, because it "has state-of-the-art infrastructure and access to a renewable water source in the Wabash aquifer."
Jaworowski said that aquifer is "a vast source" of water and does not have some of the same drawbacks as other water sources Sunrise was considering.