BY APRIL EVANS
A new coal mine is in the planning stages for the southern part of Vermilion County.
Sunrise Coal, LLC, of Terre Haute, Ind. has been entering into mineral rights lease agreements with landowners in the southern half of the county since fall 2009. Around 70 leases have been recorded at the Vermilion County courthouse annex, with the majority being memorandum agreements between the coal company and the landowner, with contracts ranging from four to nearly 3,000 acres each.
The proposed mine currently borders both Black Beauty Coal Co., mines, the Riola portal to the north and the Vermilion Grove portal along its eastern boundary.
Scott Fowler, supervisor of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Land Reclamation Division, said two representatives from Sunrise Coal came in to the IDNR a few weeks ago to make the agency aware they are preparing to put together a mine in this area. The representatives said they plan to apply for a coal mine permit.
Sunrise Coal’s offices and representatives were contacted multiple times requesting comment, but did not respond.
While Sunrise does not yet have a permit to mine coal in Illinois, the representatives did give IDNR notice of exploration drilling. Fowler said that sometime in the last year test drilling was approved for sections of land in the area to be done by Sunrise Coal.
Fowler said the coal company is now drilling holes into the coal seam, testing its thickness, seeing the roof rock, taking core samples and analyzing for BTU, sulfur and the coal value.
Essentially, the company is mapping the information needed for the future coal mine and to make sure the site favorable for it to go forward with the mine and apply for the permit.
Fowler said a tremendous amount of information is needed for the permit process and the coal company is at least six months away from applying.
“They are quite a ways away from submitting an application to us,” Fowler said.
Before applying, the company must first choose a location for its surface facilities, which it has not.
The company also must have archaeological soil testing and surface and water testing completed, with six months of data on hand.
Once the coal company submits an application for a permit, Fowler said that process usually takes at least a year for it to be evaluated.
“It will be at least a year and a half before a shovel full of dirt begins to construct a mine,” Fowler said.
That application process includes public involvement, including notice in a newspaper for four consecutive weeks, and giving the community the opportunity to submit comments through a hearing.
Some area residents are already voicing their opinion about a new mine making its way into the county.
Charles Goodall, a farmer in rural Sidell, helped to organize a recent community meeting aimed at protecting farmland, the local water supply and making residents who are approached by the coal company aware of their rights in such situations.
“We farmers and landowners are supposed to be good stewards of the land,” Goodall said. “The farming community has been good stewards of the land in the past and I think we need to continue that.”
Attending that meeting along with 100 members of the public was a water scientist from Prairie Rivers Network; an individual from the Sierra Club, an environmental organization; an individual from Citizens Against Longwall Mining; coalfield landowners from other areas; plus others.
They did not invite representatives from Sunrise Coal, LLC, to the meeting.
“They have been doing a good job of marketing themselves, but have gotten an incomplete message out,” Goodall said of the coal company.
Goodall said a coal mine is not just a farmland issue, but also a water supply issue.
Fowler said an immense amount of collection data regarding any surrounding water sources is needed even before a permit to mine coal is granted so that a baseline is established for the area and monitoring can accurately be based off that.
Another local meeting took place regarding Sunrise Coal leasing local mineral rights on June 2, which was hosted by the Vermilion County Farm Bureau.
Tom Fricke, VCFB Director of Information, said around 75 people attended that informational meeting.
“It was to make sure our members knew all the points that should be covered to protect them and the mine through the lease signing process,” Fricke said.
Farm bureau attorneys from the state level specializing in such matters attended the meeting to advise the landowners about the leasing process.
The majority of memorandum agreements on file at the recorders office have lease wording that includes primary terms of one year, then two secondary terms of four years, and then the lease continuing for as long thereafter as coal continuously is mined, removed and sold by Sunrise Coal within a ten-mile radius of the real estate leased.
Goodall says he is not against mining, but feels Illinois rules and regulations mines operate under are either not strict enough or are not effectively monitored to protect the communities and environments they affect.
“We need to look at the big picture,” Goodall said.