Homer Village Board Stands Up For Clean Water and Healthy Farms

Homer, Ill. – In a positive development and favorable outcome for area residents, farms, and natural resources, on Monday February 11th, 2013, the Village of Homer voted 3-2  against an ordinance that would have approved a contract to sell potable water and sewer services to Sunrise Coal LLC, a subsidiary of Hallador Energy.

Charles Goodall, seventh generation Vermilion County farmer from Sidell commended the result, saying, “Perhaps the events since 2010—information gathering, action by farmers to protect the land they love, the growing awareness by Homer residents that they must speak out to protect their village and quality of life, and finally the vote last night—constitute, in a rough but adequate way, the definition of democracy.”

Sue Smith, longtime resident of rural Homer and an avid advocate of the Salt Fork of the Vermilion River, saw the vote as an indication of a cleaner, better future.

“It is my hope that this effort, tied with others throughout the state, is a turning point in Illinois’ relationship with coal,” said Smith. “By working together to inform ourselves, followed by dialogues with local citizens and government representatives about the broader issues surrounding coal, we have been able to get past the short-term enticements to see the destructive, long-term impacts of coal mining and see our communities with renewed appreciation and value.”

Smith thanked and credited the village board for their commitment to the democratic process.

“I am deeply grateful to the Homer village board for all their time and effort over the past months as they listened to the issues, educated themselves, and did their best to thoroughly review the pros and cons before they cast their vote on a contract to sell potable water and sewer to Sunrise Coal. Their ‘no’ vote is a step toward the community values we have and desire to protect including clean and plentiful water for our local residents, our community neighbors, and for the Salt Fork River,” said Smith.

Jonathan Ashbrook, rural Homer resident and member of Stand Up to Coal, indicated that, while the process might be ongoing, residents would maintain a unified front against the coal mine.

“Clearly, a majority of the Homer Village Board members understood that this vote was not just about selling water,” said Ashbrook. “This vote is a key step in preventing Sunrise Coal from bringing an unwanted coal mine to our community.”

Next Steps

While representatives of Sunrise have stated the vote will not impact their plans to open a coal mine, this does seem to represent a major setback for their operational plans.

Specifically, the company has not presented area communities with a viable plan for how they will secure the treated water and sewer services their operation will need – much less the larger need for raw water to wash coal. In addition, local residents are still waiting to hear how the coal would be transported to market, as area roads are not suitable for coal mine traffic, and at this time Sunrise does not appear to have secured the land rights necessary to construct a railroad spur.

Additionally, the 19,000 acres of coal rights they claim to have leased appear to include many parcels outside of the area they initially intend to mine. There also seem to be significant gaps in the mineral reserve for the proposed Bulldog mine that make the reserve look like a patchwork of coal leases (see this map from Permit Application #429 submitted by Sunrise to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in the summer of 2012).

Looking ahead, Sunrise and Hallador are in the initial phases of applying for several permits from state and federal agencies that would likely be needed to open the mine. These include a mining permit from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, a water pollution discharge permit from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, as well as approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Mine Safety and Health Administration. All of these permits are subject to public comment and review, and it is certain that area residents will be ready to challenge them when and if the time comes.

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