The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

July 16, 2013

Georgetown council hears comments on water deal


GEORGETOWN — Georgetown aldermen continue to hear questions about their recent decision to sell water for Sunrise Coal Company’s proposed Bulldog Coal Mine.

Last month, city council members approved a contract with Sunrise Coal to provide up to 500,000 gallons a day of treated water to the proposed mine.

At Monday night’s meeting, several anti-mine and anti-coal groups continued their complaints against the council’s decision during the public comments portion of the meeting. Spokespersons from Stand Up to Coal and Prairie Rivers Network, as well as a former Homer trustee, all spoke about the perceived pitfalls of the proposed coal mine.

Those comments were countered by Sunrise Coal employees as well as the spouse of a miner.

What became clear is that Georgetown is and has long been a coal mining town and that the area needs and wants the jobs the proposed mine is expected to bring.

However, two attendees spoke to the audience about the source of the water and what it will mean to the town. Robert Kohlhase, an engineering manager with the Farnsworth Group. Provided information on why his firm believes that Georgetown can supply the water requested with no problems to the city.

"Georgetown has two wells, located near Cayuga, Ind., from which it draws its municipal water supply," Kohlhase said. "Each of those wells is capable of providing 1 million gallons of water a day."

According to Kohlhase, who did the engineering work when those two wells were installed and connected to the Georgetown water system, the town uses about 350,000 gallons of water a day.

"When you add the 500,000 gallons a day that the mine is anticipating it will need, that totals 850,000 gallons of water a day that will be pulled from the wells," Kohlhase said. "That is not even the maximum for one well."

Kohlhase went on to explain the two wells draw water from the Wabash River Alluvial, which is an immense supply of water and has a rapid recharging rate. An alluvial aquifer is replenished by a stream or river as well as ground water, in this case the Wabash River.

According to Kohlhase, the alluvial is so massive that during World War II, nearly 73 million gallons of water a day were pulled from it for the Newport Ammunition Plant.

Kohlhase also said this type of aquifer is minimally affected by a drought. Also, Kohlhase said the water is of such high quality that Georgetown has to do minimal treatment to the water.

"Basically, the water only needs to be treated with chlorine and fluoride during the treatment process," Kohlhase said.

Kohlhase’s firm, Farnsworth Group, provided engineering advice to the city when it negotiated the contract with Sunrise Coal.

Also speaking to the council was Ed Shirley, former Georgetown water and sewer superintendent for 16 years.

"I was the water and sewer superintendent when this water supply was brought into the town," said Shirley. "I know what it can provide and there is nothing for Georgetown residents to be afraid of.

"Not only will this be a great financial asset for the town with the sale of the water, it brings the potential for 300 good paying jobs to an area that is pretty depressed," Shirley said. "It is also going to provide some water for residents to the west of Georgetown for things like firefighting."

According to Shirley, if Sunrise Coal pays the current bulk water rate, the town could earn about $1,500 a day in water revenue.

"With that kind of revenue, Georgetown could pay off its water system loan of some $3,9 million in about three years," Shirley said.

Two anti-mine and anti-coal groups, Stand Up to Coal and Prairie Rivers Network plan a public informational meeting 6-7 p.m. Wednesday at Maple Grove Lodge in Forest Glen Preserve.

UP NEXT: The Georgetown City Council will meet at 7 p.m. Aug. 5 in the city hall.