Most public comments on proposed Vermilion County mine in opposition

Most public comments on proposed Vermilion County mine in opposition

GEORGETOWN — Richard Sollars drives 172 miles round-trip everyday from his home in Ridge Farm to work in a coal mine in Carlisle, Ind.

He carpools with Rusty Berry of Georgetown. Their commute used to be just minutes when they worked at the Villa Grove mine in southern Vermilion County. But that operation closed about five years ago, and Sollars, Berry and other fellow miners found jobs in Indiana with Sunrise Coal, which owns the Carlisle mine.

Now, Sunrise wants to develop a new underground mine in southwestern Vermilion County and has applied to the state for a permit.

Sollars and Berry want the Bulldog mine badly, not only to shorten their commute but also to give them that extra time to spend with their families.

"We both have younger kids. You miss a lot of activities when you're gone 14 to 15 hours a day," Sollars said.

And Berry's 20-year-old son, Ryan, has completed a 40-hour coal-mining course at Danville Area Community College in the hope that he can get a job at the Bulldog mine.

"I want to continue the legacy," said Ryan Berry, adding that it would mean a good-paying job with benefits.

Ryan Berry was with his father and Sollars this week at the American Legion in Georgetown, where they joined about 50 other supporters of the Bulldog coal mine. They all donned yellow Sunrise Coal T-shirts and walked a few blocks down West Street to the Georgetown Community Center, where the Illinois Department of Natural Resources was holding the first of two public meetings on Sunrise Coal's mining-permit application.

About 100 people attended the hearing where the public was able to comment. About 30 made statements that will be entered into the record for state officials to consider when they decide whether to grant Sunrise a mining permit.

Scott Fowler with IDNR's Office of Mines and Minerals told the audience that nothing has been decided yet on Sunrise's permit, and the department is in the "infancy" of the permit review process.

"So we have a long way to go," said Fowler, who explained that the next public hearing will be in late November or early December.

Traci Barkley with Prairie Rivers Network asked that the next meeting be held closer to the proposed site — roughly a rectangle mostly in Vermilion County that stretches from Homer and Fairmount south to Sidell and Allerton.

Stuart Boyd, vice president of engineering with Sunrise, was the first speaker Tuesday. He said the company has leases with more than 100 landowners for 13,000 underground acres and nearly 400 acres above ground for the surface operation. At full capacity, he said the mine will provide 300 jobs and have a room-and-pillar design. That means some of the coal will be left behind in pillars to provide stability for the ground above. He said groundwater protections will be in place, discharge from the site will be highly regulated, and the mine's groundwater protections will be monitored by the state.

But besides Boyd, most of the 30 commenters spoke out against the mine. Some live near the proposed site or the Salt Fork River, and most wore stickers that said, "Stand Up to Coal," the name of a local grassroots organization formed in 2010 in opposition to the mine.

Comments against the mine included concerns over increased truck traffic around it; possible air pollution from coal dust blowing from it and trucks and rail cars transporting the coal; possible contamination of streams, rivers and underground water by runoff; and possible harm to local agricultural resources from subsidence underneath farm ground or by taking hundreds of acres out of production for the mine's surface operation. Some commenters also mentioned endangered mussels that were placed in the Salt Fork River within the last two years.

Oakwood Mayor Bob Jennings said his town of 1,600 is downstream from the proposed mine site, which plans to discharge into the Salt Fork River. Jennings said Oakwood's water supply comes from the Salt Fork.

"What are the chances of the mine polluting our water supply?" he said. "What guarantee do the people of Oakwood have that no harmful substances will flow into our water system?"

Other commenters expressed concerns with subsidence, arguing that all mines, even room-and-pillar designs, have some degree of it.

Vermilion County farmer Tony Beck said he was one of the first to sign a lease with Sunrise for exploration of the underground coal seams, and since then, he has developed concerns that a mine could damage valuable agricultural land. He said two sink holes have developed on his land where Sunrise was doing exploratory work.

Vermilion County Board Member Chuck Nesbitt was one of the few who spoke in favor of the permit, telling IDNR officials that the county needs the 300 jobs the mine will provide. He said his family has farmland above previous mines, and it's still as productive as ever.

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fossil folly wrote on October 10, 2014 at 6:10 pm

Sunrise's assurances that mine discharages are highly regulated and that groundwater ptotection are monitored by the state are very misleading because in reality there will be inadequate monitoring and testing to establish compliance with the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.  Once the mining permit is approved (INDR/OMM has never turned one down), any air and water quality issues are turned over to the IEPA.  Sunrise will be asked to list the chemicals the mine "believes" to be in its discharges.  Sunrise will be asked what type of air permit it wants to apply for.  Sunrise will take every opportunity to minimize monitoring that it is required to conduct. Deer Run Mine in Hillsboro has lifetime air permit with no monitoring devices on or off the mine site (the fugitive emissions are calculated for reports).  Coal dust is a problem especially with the processing plant next door to the hospital and residences. An IDNR representative considers lower property values due to coal contamination a plus since such a detriment will lower property taxes. Surface water in Hillsboro is exposed to and contaminated with mine discharges.  Two 60-80 feet high hazard dam coal slurry impoundments are a permanent threat to the safety, health, and groundwater qualiy in Montgomery County.  Do not let the mine into your community.  Regulatory agencies will not protect you.