Late this morning representatives of Champaign and Vermilion county residents, including stakeholders along the Salt Fork of the Vermilion River held a press conference at the Homer Village Hall. This site was chosen because reports that the Village of Homer was talking to Sunrise Coal about using local water in the proposed coal mining and washing project had appeared in the Leader and News Gazette.
The speakers came with questions and essentially asked for a seat at the table when questions related to water and coal mining are discussed. Speakers included community members Sue Smith, Peter Kuchinke each of whom described Homer as a great place to live, and called for protections for its drinking water and the water of the nearby Salt Fork River.
Expectation by citizens that governmental processes be transparent is reasonable. “Citizens have a right to know what the officials they have chosen to serve them are doing.” said one speaker. The supporting presence of citizens may also strengthen local officials as they talk with Sunrise.
Alan Kurtz from the Champaign County Board spoke about the need to protect the prime farmland of the county. The Board is waiting for an opinion from the Illinois Attorney about the authority of Champaign to regulate local mining activities. He has no timeline for this opinion.
Charles Goodall, farmer from Sidell, which lies at the southeast corner of the area proposed to be undermined and one of the founders of Stand Up To Coal, noted that Sunrise Coal, unlike corporate promoters of a local wind turbine project, has failed to engage in an open discussion of the pros and cons of mining and washing coal. “What we need is an independent life cycle cost-benefit analysis of mining and processing coal. Who wins, who loses, who bears the cost of damage to land, drinking water, and human health.”
Goodall also advocated that Homer-Sunrise proposals be reported to the public in writing in order to promote community discussion of the issues. Then agreements should be formalized in contracts. “This would have the effect of keeping demands reasonable, would put issues on a business like footing and send a good signal to Sunrise.” Said Goodall.
Traci Barkely, Water Resources Scientist for Prairie Rivers Network reviewed the supply and demand options for local water sources and cautioned that washing coal and storing the slurry waste above our drinking water sources poses a big risk of contaminating the wells of Sidell and Allerton and, farm and residential wells with selenium, mercury and arsenic, all of which are very damaging to humans health.