HOMER — The Homer Village Board voted Monday night to reject an agreement for treated water and sewer services for Sunrise Coal LLC's proposed Bulldog coal mine, surprising even those in the audience who had asked the board to do so.
Traci Barkley with Prairie Rivers Network said she was shocked by the vote.
"This is huge," said Barkley, whose nonprofit organization has been working with some Homer-area residents against the proposed coal mine and Homer's proposed agreement to supply it with up to 20,000 gallons a day of treated water and sewer services.
The mood was celebratory outside the village meeting room immediately after the vote in which three of the six board members present voted no, making it impossible for the proposal to get the four "yes" votes required to pass.
Board member Guy James was absent, but he had voted "no" last month in a straw poll on the proposed contract. The straw poll had come to a 3-3 tie among the six village board members, and Mayor David Lucas voted yes to break the tie.
But on Tuesday night, one board member, Mike Johnson, changed his vote to a "no."
The other two who voted no, Roy Woodmansee and Kevin Knott, had also voted that way in the straw poll. The two who voted yes Tuesday night were Ray Cunningham and Larry Mingee. The mayor did not cast a vote because three of the six had already voted no, so his vote didn't matter at that point.
After the vote, Lucas asked Johnson whether he had problems with something in the proposed contract or was voting no for other reasons.
Johnson said it was not an issue with the contract itself and didn't elaborate further.
Lucas then told the two Sunrise officials and their attorney that he didn't believe they could go any further at that point and told them the village would have to see if anything could be done to get the contract presented again.
The meeting was then adjourned for 5 minutes, and the Sunrise officials left, declining to comment. Sunrise has absorbed all the village's costs of the negotiations, which have amounted to more than $50,000 in legal fees, including a special municipal attorney hired by the village.
Barkley said she believes the village board members were voting their conscience Monday night.
"It might be the end of Sunrise Coal in this community," she said. "This is not the future for the community. Ag and small business is. Coal is not."
Early on in the discussions in fall of last year, a Sunrise official told the village board that the coal mine would be built regardless of what happens with Homer, and Sunrise has other alternatives for water, but working with Homer was its preferred choice. Sunrise has not disclosed any alternative plans for accessing treated and raw water.
The agreement voted down Monday night was for treated water and sewer services only. Sunrise has also asked Homer to consider supplying the proposed coal mine with up to 540,000 gallons a day of raw water, but the village had not officially decided whether to move forward with that request, working on the treated water and sewer agreement first.
After the meeting, Lucas said he was surprised by the vote. He said he had recently talked to Johnson, who gave no indication he planned to change his vote. Lucas said he will talk to Johnson about his reason for voting no and see if there's something in the contract that can be rectified to his approval.
But, Lucas said, it's a dead deal if Johnson changed his vote for philosophical reasons.