Here’s the text of a commentary that appeared in the News-Gazette on June 29. It was written by Tyler Roche, a water policy specialist with Prairie Rivers Network. The original article is here.
Stakeholders in Champaign and Vermilion County have worked to inform their neighbors about the impacts of Sunrise Coal’s proposed Bulldog coal mine. Now they are reaching out to update a more distant group: Sunrise Coal’s investors.
The proposed 23,000-acre underground mine would compromise the clean drinking water supplies of surrounding towns, take prime farmland out of production forever, and disrupt communities with health-threatening coal dust and the constant roar of coal trucks.
Residents concerned with the impact of the mine have seen Sunrise Coal’s proposal drive a wedge in the traditionally self-reliant communities across Vermilion and Champaign County. Since 2009, the company has been urging landowners and local governments to surrender the standards they have maintained for their land in order to make way for a mine that would break ground in 2014. But as it stands, the company has yet to even receive their permit to mine.
Local landowners have felt misinformed by Sunrise Coal — that the company has portrayed the mine as a “done deal,” when in fact, much remains to be accomplished. Residents suspect that the same miscommunication may be occurring between Sunrise Coal and investors in their parent company, Colorado-based Hallador Energy Co.
A letter supported by grassroots group Stand Up to Coal and Prairie Rivers Network provides investors with a list of the many tasks remaining before mining can effectively begin:
(1) Mineral Rights. Sunrise Coal has been working to collect mineral leases for years, yet huge swaths of land remain out of reach. Several local residents, who have been caretakers of their land for generations, are standing firm in denying access to the minerals beneath their family farms.
(2) Water. After losing a lengthy and contentious battle in Homer, Sunrise Coal turned to Georgetown to acquire up to 500,000 gallons of treated water per day to wash the coal onsite. The company not only needs to construct and maintain new infrastructure needed to pump the water to the mine site, they also need the easements to build the infrastructure. Sunrise Coal could search for existing rights-of-way, negotiate with dozens of individual landowners, or attempt the act of eminent domain. The last two options will pit Sunrise Coal in another battle against local residents.
(3) Shipping. Rail spurs remain to be built connecting the coal processing facilities to the regional distribution network. While some railroad easements have been negotiated, other landowners with large and necessary property holdings are protecting their assets and will continue to do so.
(4) Permits. Sunrise Coal has yet to be given two necessary permits: a mining permit from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and a water pollution discharge permit from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Sunrise Coal first submitted the application for a mining permit in 2012 — it was returned as “incomplete” with far more errors than a typical application. Some errors were complex and some as careless as “inadvertently” marking “no” instead of “yes” on a question of whether operations will be conducted within 100 feet of the right-of-way line of a public road … of which there are three. (See number 39 in completeness review: http://prairierivers.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Bulldog-Mine-Permit-resubmit_Oct2013.pdf). An application for the water pollution discharge permit has not yet been submitted and may take as long as 18 months to process.
The proposal for a coal mine has proven to be a lengthy process that has done more to divide the community than improve it. It seems common sense that investors and our local decision-makers could find a better project to support. One with local benefits, local jobs, and without a boom-and-bust cycle that leaves our community with collateral damage.
For more information on the investor letter and the proposed mine, visit prairierivers.org/bulldog-mine-investors/ and standuptocoal.org.