Georgetown noncommittal to hearing over water sale to mine
GEORGETOWN — City officials were noncommittal on Monday to requests for a public hearing on the sale of water to a proposed coal mine.
"If people have questions, then why are they not here now ?" Alderman Tim Waterman asked an audience of about 40 people at Monday's Georgetown City Council meeting.
Resident Don Weil asked city council members about holding a public hearing to provide the details of the council's plan to sell up to 500,000 gallons of water a day to a new coal mine near Homer that would be developed by Sunrise Coal, LLC of Terre Haute, Ind. Weil said some people in Georgetown are confused about the plan, and that a public hearing would help them get the whole picture.
Georgetown council members voted unanimously on June 17 to sell up to 500,000 gallons of water a day to the proposed Sunrise Coal mine. But many details remain to be settled, such as the rate that Sunrise will be charged for the water, and questions remain about the uses for the new revenue from the sale of water, and about what infrastructure improvements would be needed to deliver that much water each day to a mine that would be built near Homer, almost 20 miles from 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 water to be used for washing the coal and for the mining process.
Alderman Adam Hart said he was not opposed to a public hearing, but that he would not change his vote to supply water to the mine.
Alderwoman Wilma Wilming did not appear to favor a public hearing.
"The people voted for us to speak for them," Wilming said.
Both Suzanne Jaworoski, the communications director with Sunrise Coal, and Robert Kohlhase, an engineering manager with the city engineers, The Farnsworth Group of Peoria, were at Monday's meeting, and invited questions from the audience.
Jaworowski said the coal company and the city engineers were looking into holding a public hearing, but said nothing had been set.
Alderman Gerald McPhillips said the responsibility for holding a public meeting belonged to city officials, not to city engineers or a water customer. He said he wanted the public to have the same information that city officials had.
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.
Mayor Kay Sanders said the whole council agreed to sell water to the coal company.
When asked about a possible public hearing, Sanders was noncommittal.
"Whatever happens, happens," she said.
A resident of rural Homer spoke at Monday's meeting, as did a member of the Homer village board and a representative of the Prairie Rivers Network, who said the organization would hold an informational meeting at 6 p.m. on Wednesday at the Forest Glen Preserve east of Westville.
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.
Kohlhase said the aquifer that the wells were tapped into could easily provide an additional 500,000 gallons of water a day without stretching its capacity. He said the two wells produce about 350,000 gallons a day now, and are designed to produce up to 1 million gallons of water a day.
Kohlhase said the diameter of the pipes that transport the water from the wells to Georgetown can handle an additional 500,000 gallons a day, as well. He was not sure whether an additional pumping station would be needed to push the water from Georgetown to the new mine.