Listen to this article

DANVILLE — Nearly a decade after Indiana-based Sunrise Coal first began exploring the possibility of a new mine in Vermilion County, the Bulldog Mine is closer than ever to becoming a reality on 390 acres of farmland southeast of Homer.

Ed Cross with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources confirmed to News-Gazette Media on Tuesday that the company was granted a final permit by the state agency's Office of Mines and Minerals.

But before the company can begin construction at the site in southwestern Vermilion County north of Allerton and Sidell, it will need a permit from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

In 2015, that agency issued a draft of a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit, which the company needs to legally discharge runoff from the site into nearby waterways, said the IEPA's Kim Biggs. But the process stalled waiting on the IDNR to issue its permit first, she said.

Now, the IEPA is reviewing information it has recently received from the IDNR regarding the project.

"We're reviewing that to determine if we need to make any additional changes to our draft permit," Biggs said.

Officials from Terre Haute, Ind.-based Sunrise Coal could not be reached for comment Tuesday about the company's long-awaited green light from the IDNR.

For Suzanne Smith, of rural Homer, and other members of Stand Up to Coal, the timing of this permit approval came as a surprise.

Just last week, Smith said, state legislators called for 100 percent renewable energy in Illinois by 2050. She questioned why Illinois would be opening a new coal mine now.

"I can't believe our new governor and his staff would permit the use of public drinking water to wash coal and break up our good farmland to dig up and process coal in this day and age of alternative-energy initiatives," said Smith, who was among more than 150 people who made comments at public meetings, or during the written comment period, on the proposed mine.

Smith said she and others who spoke out recently received envelopes from the state containing a summary of more than 150 official comments — some in the form of questions and responses to those comments from either the company or the state.

But Smith said she and others still have issues with this mine despite the company's modifications.

"Stand Up To Coal is still concerned about the potential harmful impacts this coal mine could have on water supplies, agricultural lands, air quality and the long-term effects on our rural community," she said.

In a 159-page review of its recent decision, IDNR officials said they have reviewed and approved all of the company's modifications.

Smith said their grassroots group will be filing as a petitioner asking the state for an administrative review.