Citizens have opportunity to speak on proposed mine tonight

Citizens have opportunity to speak on proposed mine tonight

SIDELL — Less than three weeks after 175 workers were laid off at Sunrise Coal mines in Indiana, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency officials will hear concerns tonight from local citizens about plans for a mine in Vermilion County that could bring 300 new jobs to the area.

Terre Haute, Ind.-based Sunrise Coal has purchased 400 acres in southwest Vermilion County for mine surface operations and leased the mineral rights to nearly 20,000 acres near the towns of Allerton, Sidell and Homer, in hopes of accessing 55 million tons of coal over a 20- to 25-year period.

Sunrise officials have maintained that the mine will provide high-paying jobs, spur additional economic development and generate more than $10 million in state and local tax revenue.

Opponents, meanwhile, have continually voiced concerns over potential harm to farm ground, the environment and water resources.

But three years after starting the permitting process for the Bulldog mine, economic factors are now affecting Sunrise's coal production.

On July 27, the Denver-based Hallador Energy Co. — of which Sunrise is a wholly-owned subsidiary — announced that "2015 has brought mild weather and a glut of low-priced natural gas," catching most of Sunrise's customers by surprise.

As a result, coal supply contracts were modified and layoffs were necessary, according to Hallador officials.

Sunrise has two underground mines in Indiana. According to Hallador, coal production at the Carlisle mine will decrease while production increases at its Oaktown facility, which will now be responsible for more than 90 percent of the company's coal production over the next two years.

A large number of employees at Carlisle will transfer to Oaktown, Hallador announced, but not until a reduction in force of 175 workers, which took effect on July 27.

Sunrise officials originally hoped the Bulldog mine would be OK'd in 2015, but after three years, the company still does not have the permits necessary.

In June 2012, Sunrise applied to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for its mining permit, and after two well-attended public meetings in 2014, the state agency neither approved nor denied Sunrise's application earlier this year. Instead, IDNR asked for additional information regarding Sunrise's mining plans.

The company has up to a year to provide the information.

But it will also need a permit from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, one that would allow the mine to discharge into nearby waterways.

A public hearing concerning that permit will be held by the IEPA at 5:30 p.m. today at Salt Fork Junior High, south of Sidell at 7087 North 600 East Road.

The company plans to have three locations where it can discharge mine drainage into an unnamed tributary of the Olive Branch, which flows into the Salt Fork River, and also plans to use existing field tiles to transport the drainage.

The plan also calls for the creation of several clay-lined ponds on the mining site. One of those would hold a slurry, the result of the coal-washing process, which must be contained because it poses risks to the environment and water resources.

Mine officials maintain that discharges into the Olive Branch wouldn't be frequent and would adhere to water quality requirements stipulated by state and federal regulations, and clay liners in the ponds and impoundments will protect underground water resources.

But opponents, like local grass roots organization Stand Up to Coal, argue that the company doesn't have the legal right to use field tiles. They say various aspects of the underground mining process and surface operation pose a risk to the environment, partly because of lax enforcement by state and federal regulators.

Jonathan Ashbrook with Stand Up To Coal says the rain and flooding this year serve as a reminder of how easily contaminants from the surface can be washed into streams and rivers.

Scott Dossett of Urbana said he is concerned about the use of field tiles and the threat that the slurry impoundment and other ponds pose to shallow underground water resources that supply the local wells of farmers and others.

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Sid Saltfork wrote on August 12, 2015 at 1:08 pm

It is not just Vermillion County.  It is Champaign County also.  Resident rights should come before corporate rights.  If you think that coal production is not an environmental hazard, tour some of the abandoned mines.  The coal companies come in obtain the coal, and leave their chemicals and destruction for states, and counties to clean up.  Keep them out.  Demand that federal, and state agencies stop them.