Coal mine opponents seek state hearing

Coal mine opponents seek state hearing

FAIRMOUNT — Opponents of a proposed coal mine southeast of Homer are requesting the state hold public hearings on the development plans of Sunrise Coal, which recently finalized its state application for a mining permit for its Bulldog mine.

Sunrise Coal, based in Terre Haute, Ind., submitted its finalized permit application to the state for formal review on July 29, according to Chris Young, spokesperson with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Now begins the public participation phase of the state's mine-permitting process.

Tyler Rotche, a water policy specialist with the Prairie Rivers Network, said now is the time for the community to start getting involved again if they have any resistance to the mine.

"This is the time to participate and make those comments known," he said.

Sunrise officials did not return phone messages seeking comment on this next phase in the mine approval process.

According to Young, Sunrise must run a notice in a local newspaper for four consecutive weeks advertising the fact that the permit application was filed with the Vermilion County clerk's office and with IDNR.

The first notice was published on July 31 in the Sidell Reporter in Sidell, according to Young. Written comments from the public will be accepted for 30 days after the last newspaper notice, and the request for the first public meeting — an informal conference — can be made within 30 days of the last newspaper notice, according to Young. Then, a request for a public hearing can be made within 80 days of the first newspaper notice.

Jonathan Ashbrook, a member of Stand Up to Coal, a local grass roots organization formed in opposition to the Bulldog mine, said plans are in the works to request an informal conference with state officials and a public hearing, too.

It's been more than four years since Sunrise Coal began approaching landowners to lease their mineral rights for a proposed underground coal mine that would cover an area, mostly in Vermilion County, but south of a Homer-to-Fairmount line and north of an Allerton-to-Sidell line. The surface operation would be in Vermilion.

Sunrise submitted its preliminary mine application more than two years ago and has been working to finalize the details of its plan and subsequently its final application, which included securing a water source.

Opposition to the mine grew during Sunrise's effort to secure the massive amount of water needed for the mining process. And after months of negotiation and debate, the Homer village board voted down an agreement to supply it to Sunrise. Eventually, the village of Georgetown in southern Vermilion agreed to supply the water.

The final permit application clarifies, according to Ashbrook, that the mine will have three discharge points into a ditch that will flow into the Olive Branch, which dumps exclusively into the Salt Fork River.

Ashbrook said he anticipates that part of the plan being one of the biggest concerns for the public. He said it also appears that the plan is to possibly haul the coal from the surface operation to a site east of Homer where it would be transferred to rail transportation. Ashbrook said, depending on what the trucking route would be, that much heavy traffic also could be a concern.

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