Residents voice fears about runoff from coal mine

Residents voice fears about runoff from coal mine

SIDELL — Keith Rohl farms near the proposed site of the Bulldog coal mine in southwest Vermilion County. He has concerns with the company's plan to use existing field tiles in its underground coal mine operation.

"I want to make sure everything is done properly," he said. "My neighbors and I depend on that tile to drain our land."

Jay Hageman also farms, and lives, in the area of the proposed mine, but he's not concerned with the Terre Haute, Ind., based company's plan to pull coal from an area encompassing nearly 20,000 acres.

"I do not see it harming agricultural production or waters," said Hageman, who added that he believes Sunrise will meet and exceed standards protecting the environment and water resources, and if problems arise, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency will be his protector. "Benefits to the area would be enormous."

Both farmers made their comments during a state EPA public hearing Wednesday night north of Sidell near the proposed site of the Bulldog mine. About 75 people attended the hearing, and nearly half made comments on the record to state EPA officials, who are deciding whether to issue Sunrise a permit to discharge runoff from the mine into local waterways.

It's one of two permits Sunrise Coal needs to pursue its plans for the Bulldog mine.

Suzanne Jaworowski, director of communications with Sunrise Coal, which just laid off more than 170 workers at one of its mines in Indiana, said the company takes good care of its employees, and takes safety and environmental stewardship seriously. She said Sunrise is committed to opening the Bulldog mine and providing jobs.

But the majority of the speakers expressed concerns with plans for the mine and asked state officials questions, most of which officials tried to answer at the hearing.

Oakwood gets its drinking water from the Salt Fork River and is downstream of the three sites where the mine wants to discharge into a tributary to the river. Bob Jennings, president of the village board, asked what assurances his village has the mine won't affect his town's drinking water.

According to the Sunrise application and state officials, the mine will be designed to discharge into the tributary only during excessive rainfall events, and if there's a discharge, the mine must meet limitations for the amount of contaminants released into the waterway.

Jennings said that in recent years, the area has had multiple heavy rains described as 100-year rains. He asked that if those should continue, resulting in discharges from the mine, pushing more mine material into the river, what would be the effect on citizens of Oakwood. He also asked what additional testing or costs might be necessary for his village.

"These concerns are not only worrisome for our citizens, but could increase costs and economic harm to our village," said Jennings, who added that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in considering the mine's other permit application is looking further into Oakwood being downstream of the mine. He asked why the state EPA is not doing the same.

"We need your assurance that our drinking water will remain safe," he said.

State EPA officials said there should be no discharges from the mine during the summer months, and if there are, standards must be met assuring the quality of the water is not harmed. But in response to one local speaker's question, the officials said that Sunrise is responsible for monitoring the levels of its mine discharges, and that data is reported quarterly to the IEPA for review. And if those reports indicate an issue, according to state officials, the agency then does an inspection.

Other residents expressed concerns that the slurry pits at the mine could, at some point, leak through their clay liners and contaminate underground water resources, and the mine design could negatively affect the field tile system in the area, which the mine intends to use.

The public has until Sept. 11 to submit written comments to the state EPA that will be considered in making its decision whether to issue or deny Sunrise a permit or ask the company for modifications.