Public turns out in opposition to Homer water sale to Sunrise

Over 100 local residents packed into a special meeting of the Homer Village Board to voice their concerns about the potential drawbacks of a proposal under consideration to sell water to Sunrise Coal’s proposed Bulldog Mine.

The agreement would require Homer to add a minimum of 410,000 gallons/day of capacity to the Village water works, more than quadrupling the system’s current peak usage. Over a dozen Homer and rural residents made public comments opposing the sale of water to the mine. Homer resident Howard Hackney submitted copies of a petition, including nearly 500 signatures gathered on a petition opposing the mine, and another 101 signatures of Homer residents on a separate petition urging the Village Board to decline the mine’s request for water.

Constructing that additional capacity will require significant investment and opens Village ratepayers to potential liability. Chad Beckett, attorney for Prairie Rivers Network and 16 local residents commented that, “Constructing additional capacity is a huge undertaking, including costs of water sales evaluation and negotiation, construction and maintenance of infrastructure, time and resources of Village Board and staff and potential legal challenges. Unfortunately, the village may be restricted in recouping expenses in the event of Sunrise Coal declaring bankruptcy, which is a real possibility given the volatility in the coal market.”

Recently the coal industry has been reeling from the bankruptcy of Patriot Coal, which has been followed by speculation about the financial health of several other major coal producers.

“If the price of coal falls, or Sunrise Coal decides not to go forward with this project for any reason, or if Sunrise Coal Should become bankrupt before the bonds were paid, the citizens of Homer would be saddled with this debt, with this unnecessary expansion, and the additional unnecessary costs of its maintenance,” explained Mr. Beckett. “The Village has better things to do than to worry about the repercussions of this non-essential, non-residential use of a precious resource outside of its municipal boundaries and, indeed, outside of its County. The request by Sunrise Coal for more than half a million gallons of water per day can, and should, simply be rejected.”

Although the Village Board voted 4-2 in favor of a motion to giving Mayor David Lucas permission to retain a municipal utility legal expert and engineer to answer outstanding questions about the legality of the proposal, the audience sentiment was strongly opposed. Several calls were heard throughout to put the issue to a referendum.

Homer resident Susan Forsyth, who has spent the past weeks collecting signatures on a petition commented,”I would love to see Homer go in another direction to find revenue. I would like to see more downtown revitalization with encouragement and support of independent business owners. Many people in town would rather see those things than a coal mine and don’t understand why this isn’t the case and being pursued.”

Several rural Homer residents pointed out that the Village does not seem to be taking their concerns into account. During the public comment period, rural resident Joan Lane told the Board, “It’s a mistake to think that what happens in the village only affects the village. We rural residents are your neighbors, what you do affects us all and we need to come together as a community to do what is right.”


Click here for News-Gazette coverage of the meeting.

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