HOMER — Residents who are opposed to Homer supplying hundreds of thousands of gallons of untreated water per day to a proposed coal mine fear that a separate, much smaller request for treated water could give Sunrise Coal an opportunity to use eminent domain to take land for water access to the proposed mine site in Vermilion County.
Some area residents and the Prairie Rivers Network are opposed to Homer selling hundreds of thousands of gallons of untreated water to the proposed Bulldog coal mine southeast of Homer, because they contend that an overwithdrawal of water in the area could damage nearby wells or the Salt Fork River.
For the last few months, the Homer village board has been working its way through consideration of a request from Sunrise Coal, based in Terre Haute, Ind., for up to 500,000 gallons of untreated water per day in addition to about 3,000 gallons a day of treated water and sewer services.
The Homer village board has scheduled a special meeting for 7 p.m. Monday at the village hall, 500 E. Second St., Homer, to continue discussing the request from Sunrise.
According to the village board's agenda, the trustees will discuss a recent legal report from Klein, Thorpe, and Jenkins, a law firm with specialized legal experience in municipal utility issues that provided the village trustees with legal research on whether the village could use eminent domain and answered some other legal questions. The law firm's report states that the village has the statutory authority to exercise eminent domain, but it would be difficult for the village or coal mine to prove that it would be for a public purpose. The report also states that there are liability issues in supplying water to the coal mine, and those would need to be addressed in contract language to protect the village. And the report states that if the village were to issue bonds to pay for any infrastructure required to meet the water request, it would be a risk to the village if the revenue from Sunrise were the only source for repaying the bonds.
According to village officials, an attorney from the Klein, Thorpe, and Jenkins law firm will be at the meeting Monday to discuss the legal issues and answer any questions from the board.
Also on the agenda is discussion of the request for non-potable water for coal production and discussion of a contract with Sunrise for treated water and sewage services. The village board instructed its attorney earlier in the month to begin drawing up a contract for the potable water and sewage services.
According to a news release from Prairie Rivers, local citizens plan to be there again to raise their concerns with the request for raw water and to ask the village board not to support moving forward with the contract for potable water and sewage services.
Chad Beckett, a local attorney representing Prairie Rivers and a group of concerned citizens, said citizens and landowners in the Homer area have concerns with the proposed coal mine in general.
"But aside from that, just looking at the water issue, this is a proposal that seems to be a rushed decision without really explaining how or in what way that water is going to be supplied and what effect it could have on the community, and it needs to be studied seriously and deliberately," he said.
Homer village officials have not disclosed exactly how they might provide the large amount of raw water the coal mine is requesting, but have discussed determining the capacity of underground wells north of the village and possibly tapping into the Salt Fork River as well as using water that's discharged from the village's sanitary sewer system.
Beckett said the law firm's report is not materially different than issues raised by him in an earlier memo to the village.
"We have suggested that there are problems the village faces either now or in the future if they decide to sell water particularly in significant quantities to an outside entity like Sunrise Coal," he said. "There are ways for the village to do this. And they may be able to bring this forth, but they do so at their peril. The village is taking a leap of faith."