Lingering questions on water sale to mine may be addressed

GEORGETOWN — City engineers will attempt to answer the public’s questions about the sale of water to the proposed Sunrise Coal mine near Homer, an official with the mining company said on Monday.

Suzanne Jaworowski, the communications director for Sunrise Coal LLC of Terre Haute, Ind., said that representatives from The Farnsworth Group of Champaign were preparing an article which would be printed in local newspapers, explaining the details involved in the delivery of water from the city’s wells near Cayuga, Ind. to the new mine.

Jaworowski said that public meetings may also be held to explain the details, but that it would be up to the city engineers to set up those meetings.

Georgetown City Council members voted unanimously June 17 to sell up to a half million gallons of water a day to the proposed mine.

But many details remain to be settled, such as the rate that Sunrise will be charged. And questions remain about what the city will do with the new revenue and what infrastructure improvements are needed to deliver that much water  to the mine that would be built near Homer, a village almost 20 miles from Georgetown.

Since 2003, Georgetown has received its drinking water from two wells that were constructed near Cayuga, Ind., about 12 miles to the east. Water is treated at the well facility and then is pumped to Georgetown.

Homer will supply the mine with up to 20,000 gallons of treated water a day and provide sewer services, but declined to supply the mine with production water to be used for washing the coal and for the mining process.

Sunrise Coal expects to need about 300,000 gallons a day for the first few years while the mine is being developed, and then up to 500,000 gallons a day after that. At the June 17 meeting, it was decided that Sunrise Coal would pay the city the residential rate for water for the first year, and a rate for the next 29 years would be negotiated within 90 days.

But since then, it was decided that the city engineer would come up with a rate for the first year.

Also at the June 17 meeting, Jaworowski said that the company would pay for about $1 million in infrastructure improvements to the city’s water system to get the water to the proposed mine, which will be located about 5 miles from Homer.

Last week, Georgetown Mayor Kay Sanders said that city engineers have not yet determined whether the existing wells, pumps and water mains could accommodate producing and transporting an additional water. Council members have not said what would happen if infrastructure improvements needed to fulfill the agreement cost more than the $1 million promised by Sunrise Coal.

Georgetown resident Joe Graves said that he was glad that council members asked questions of the mining company and of city engineers prior to the June 17 vote, but said that he was upset that the public did not have an opportunity to ask questions and get answers beforehand.

Council members met with representatives of Sunrise Coal, The Farnsworth Group, and the city’s streets and alleys superintendent and the city’s gas and water superintendent individually or in pairs, rather than at a committee meeting or a special full-council meeting.

Because only one or two council members were at each meeting, the meetings were not subject to the state’s Open Meetings Act, and the public did not have to be notified of or allowed to attend the meetings.

“It was legal, but seems unethical,” Graves said.

Georgetown resident Bob Mahoney agreed.

“A decision of this magnitude should have been discussed publicly,” Mahoney said.

In other business, council members:

— Tabled action on a proposed citywide cleanup day until more options could be explored.

— Voted to pursue refinancing some of its debts and taking advantage of lower interest rates, which could save the city money.

— Vote 4-3 to seat Don Wheeler to an open Ward 3 seat, which was  vacated in May, when Sanders was sworn in as mayor. Wheeler, who has no previous political experience, said he was asked to serve by Sanders.

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