Engineer: Georgetown can handle water sale to coal mine

GEORGETOWN - An engineer with the Farnsworth engineering group believes that Georgetown's plans to sell hundreds of thousands of gallons of water a day to a proposed mine in Vermilion and Champaign counties is a request the town's water system can readily handle and is a positive arrangement for the municipality.

On June 17, the Georgetown city council unanimously approved selling up to 500,000 gallons of untreated water per day for 30 years to the Bulldog mine that's being planned in western Vermilion County by Sunrise Coal, based in Terre Haute, Ind.

The June 17 meeting was the first time the full Georgetown city council had publicly discussed a water sale to Sunrise, and it was approved that same night.

At Georgetown's most recent city council meeting on July 1, some residents expressed their disapproval with the way the agreement came to fruition, and they had concerns and questions about the city selling that much water to the coal company.

Suzanne Jaworowski with Sunrise Coal told the residents at the meeting that engineers with Farnsworth would be able to address their concerns.

Bob Kohlhase with the Farnsworth Group, which has offices in Champaign, has worked with the city of Georgetown for years, helping the town more than 10 years ago when it needed to find a new water supply, because the small lake it relied on was subject to drought and water quality violations. Farnsworth helped Georgetown design its current water system that pulls about 200,000 to 300,000 gallons a day out of two underground wells that are tapped into the Wabash aquifer near Cayuga, Ind.

"The city's water supply is a very strong water supply," said Kohlhase, who added that each well could supply up to 1 million gallons a day. He said the supply of the Wabash aquifer is very large and has good recharge sources, including local rainfall as well as the Little Vermilion River and the Wabash River. It's the same aquifer that Sunrise's Carlisle, Ind., mine uses as a water supply.

He said Georgetown's water system is well situated to handle the increased supply to the coal mine. He said it was designed for a higher capacity and that Indiana officials were notified as a courtesy and expressed no concerns.

Jaworowski said the exact placement of the water line that will run about 12 miles from Georgetown to the coal mine's surface operation, which is about five miles southeast of Homer, has not yet been determined, because it depends on securing easements.

Kohlhase said that water line will provide opportunities for residences along its path to hook in and get water, if they choose. Jaworowski said about 15 fire hydrants will be added along the line, which could be vital in fighting rural fires.

Kohlhase said the income that Georgetown will receive from Sunrise will mean the town's water fund will have some extra revenue that can be used to replace antiquated water mains in town, possibly doing one small water infrastructure improvement project each year, which will increase the reliability of the water system in the city. Kohlhase said many communities have difficulty finding the funding to continually update its water infrastructure.

Kohlhase said there won't be any difference in the water supply, pressure or quality for customers in the city due to the additional water going to the mine.

In regard to what the coal mine will pay the city, Jaworowski said the first year's rate has been set and agreed upon in an agreement that's already been signed by both parties. According to that agreement, the first-year rate will be the in-town residential rate, but the rate for years 2 through 30 are still to be negotiated.

And Jaworowski said Sunrise will pay for the design, engineering, construction and maintenance of the entire water line from Georgetown to the coal mine. She said the mine company anticipates it will be at least $1 million due to earlier estimates when Sunrise was negotiating with the village of Homer. But the contract between the city of Georgetown and Sunrise doesn't state a dollar figure, she said; it states that the company will pay for design, engineering, construction and maintenance of the line.

She also said the contract states that in the event of a drought or some shortage of water, the city reserves the right to prioritize water to customers in the corporate limits, so if there's a shortage for any reason, the city residents would have priority.

"It's a positive project from the city's view point," Kohlhase said.

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