Basic questions remain on mine

Basic questions remain on mine

By Tyler Rotche

In 2009, representatives of Indiana-based Sunrise Coal, LLC began cutting across Vermilion County, urging landowners to lease their mineral rights. Farmers and landowners were initially cautious of the deal, and by no means eager to surrender the standards they had maintained for their land for generations. As public meetings began, many residents simply wanted to learn more: How would a coal mine impact their land? Where would the coal mine get its massive water needs? How many waste pits would the mine leave on-site? How would the coal be transported?

Six years later, these questions remain unanswered. Sunrise Coal needs two permits before it can begin operation, one from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) for mining and reclamation planning, another from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) for water pollution discharge.

Hundreds of residents voiced their concerns at two public hearings for the IDNR permit last winter. After reviewing the comments and documents submitted, IDNR realized the insufficiencies in the permit, compiling a list of 62 mistakes, sloppy responses, and questions for Sunrise to answer in the next year.

The modification letter can be viewed here.


Reading through this list, it is increasingly clear how little our community has been told about this mine — and how it has been mischaracterized over the past six years.

A visit to the Sunrise Coal website's "Landowners & Neighbors" section shows, in four categories, what the company used to reassure landowners who would risk the integrity of their land forever: Minimal Land Disturbance, Non-Subsidence Environment, Maintaining Clean Water, and Post-Mining Land Restoration.

The important information is not what Sunrise writes on its website, but what it writes in its enforceable permit — and there are big differences.

Many of these are pointed out in IDNR's list of 62 questions.

While the company claimed there would be "Minimal Land Disturbance," IDNR points out that Sunrise "does not clearly state whether surface blasting activities will be employed," a clear concern of those living nearby for maintaining quality of life and property value (Question 3).

While the company promoted a "Non-Subsidence Environment," IDNR notes that Sunrise "fails to identify bridges and drainage tile fields that may be impacted by subsidence," an issue of tremendous importance to local farmlands that require proper drainage to remain productive (Question 61).

Despite the promise of "Maintaining Clean Water," Sunrise's permit application states that "no springs or other water resources within or adjacent to the permit area" exist, blatantly leaving out springs in the area, not to mention the drinking water intake for the Village of Oakwood, only several miles from the permit area (Question 8).

And even though the law currently allows prime farmland to be destroyed forever, Sunrise's promise for "Post-Mining Land Restoration" still falls short — IDNR calls the applicant's description "vague and quite general" (Question 32).

As Sunrise re-writes large portions of its permit, the company is now in the process of applying for a water pollution discharge permit through the Illinois EPA. This seems strange, however, given that the company for years touted a "closed-loop system" for wastewater on the site.

Nevertheless, a permit for three "discharge" points is now before the IEPA. These waste streams do not re-enter a closed loop, but instead, drainage tiles that Sunrise has not yet proven that it has legal access to, nor has it demonstrated the impact of the discharge on upstream and downstream landowners using the tile mains (described in IDNR Question 54).

You can view the draft IEPA permit here.

Some of these questions can be asked at the water pollution discharge hearing (not yet scheduled) — but many will remain unanswered. Does the company still plan to get water from the Salt Fork? Will hundreds of coal trucks drive on the Jamaica school bus route — and on roads where high school students drive to and from school each day? Is this a company we can trust to maintain our prime farmland that drives and sustains the local economy?

To learn more about the proposed mine and the community we were working to protect, feel free to contact us at or visit

Tyler Rotche is a water policy specialist with Prairie Rivers Network. Stand Up To Coal is dedicated to informing residents, farmers and landowners in Champaign and Vermilion counties about the negative effects that Sunrise Coal, LLC's planned coal mine could have on our lands, waters and health.


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Will39 wrote on May 27, 2015 at 7:05 am

I attended the public hearings for this mine.  The people with concerns were the 100s of mine supporters wearing yellow shirts.  The against crowd was bout 15.  16 if you count the drunk guy that spilled whiskey on an 80 year old woman.  The concerns were that people like the writer of this article were trying to stop the mine. All the above was anwered at the hearing, so I'm not sure the purpose of this article. 

SAMO wrote on May 28, 2015 at 1:05 pm

I recall public hearing attendance being about even -- but if you don't count the overwhelming number of "yellow shirts" bussed in from Indiana to distract from local opinion, then the audience was by far opposed to the mine.

(Perhaps if local residents were given free transportation, a free meal, and paid for time missed from work, there would have been an even higher turnout.)

The questions listed in this article were not answered in the hearing, because these are questions asked by IDNR (who ran the hearing) after the public comments were given at the hearing. That means that after listening to what Vermilion County had to say, state regulators realized Sunrise still had a lot of questions to answer (from the article, it looks like 62 questions).