Imagine Your Farmland After Longwall Mining

Many farmers sold the rights to mine coal under their fields for much-needed income. They thought they would never see surface impacts since room and pillar (with no planned subsidence) was used for centuries. No farmer knew about future highly mechanized, high extraction coal removal (called longwall mining) that would come decades later, and sink the land for present and future use.

Imagine looking over your life-long farm field where you planted seeds and nurtured the land to yield a good crop for decades. Knowing right now, there is a longwall mining machine below your field several hundred feet down. As the coal is severed from the coal wall, the machine moves forward and the roof collapses behind it. On the surface, you see the cracks form and the depressions in the earth that increase slowly. The surface of the land falls in an uneven pattern and depth depending on the size of the coal seam removed. Layers of earth must find new placement and foundation. With 90% of the coal seam removed, the land falls several feet in an unsettled pattern to fill the void. Anything on the surface is adversely affected by the subsidence: streams, homes, ponds, barns, grain bins, trees, highways, etc. The longwall panels are miles long and several hundred feet wide.

As you look at the sunken field, your heart aches with worry about the land’s future. With rain comes the pooling of water that prevents spring planting. As with many farmlands, the coal rights and subsidence rights were very long ago severed from the land surface causing the land to be vulnerable.
Land is a commodity with a defined purpose. The farmer’s land has a purpose to raise crops. A coal mine owner has a purpose of extracting coal from the land with his coal rights. The conflict between the farmer and coal mine operator occurs when coal extraction interferes with the land’s crop production. Room and pillar method of coal mining is compatible with crop production since no planned subsidence occurs. In stark contrast, when a company is given the authority to use the longwall mining method, the resulting subsidence damages farmland permanently.

Subsidence of flat land creates hills and sunken areas where water has nowhere to drain. The accumulation of water in the sunken areas resembles filling a bathtub. Attempts to direct water flow have been made by digging long drainage ditches. The open fields are now separated by the ditches with erosion of topsoil occurring. The land simply cannot be returned to the condition and viability that existed prior to the subsidence. Compensation for the damage and economic loss must be negotiated with Hillsboro Energy, LLC whose owners already have financial problems after bankruptcies.

Hillsboro Energy, LLC holds subsidence rights and coal rights to land in the Montgomery County Illinois area. After acquiring all the regulatory permits, their mining rights under the land and on the surface had priority over the landowner’s or farmer’s purpose. Since the demand for coal is far less than the demand for food, land use must be reconsidered in the future. The proposed 7,731.8-acre expansion of Deer Run Mine is still pending. With the climate crisis, keeping coal in the ground seems to be a better use of land and resources for the common good.

Phone the Illinois Department of Natural Resources 217-782-6302 and Land Reclamation Division 217-782-4970 and tell them to deny Deer Run Mine’s 7,731.8-acre expansion. Mother Earth appreciates your help.
For more information visit CALM http://www.citizensagainstlongwallmining.org

THE FOLLOWING AD WAS PUBLISHED IN THE JOURNAL-NEWS ON MARCH 8, 2021

Route 185 Damages from Longwall Mining Subsidence & Subsidence Water Ponding Feb. 28th

Serious Impacts from Longwall Mining at Deer Run Mine

• Longwall Mining will sink more areas along Route 185 and Surrounding Farm Fields.

• Flat farmland sinks unevenly causing major drainage problems affecting crops.

• Longwall Mining causes impacts like a ‘bathtub effect’ with pooling of water.

• Farmers are at the mercy of the mine for recovering compensation for damages.

• Many farm fields will never be back to the flat, efficient farming as before.

• 7,731.8 acres more longwall expansion is pending and will continue damages.

• Deer Run Mine will use 6.18 Acres on the IDNR Conservation Area for air vents and other structures impacting a historic and diminishing state threatened species.

• Billion dollar bankruptcies of coal companies get rid of debt obligations while they continue mining.

• Getting an equitable settlement for the landowner and community is a struggle especially with the prior billion dollar bankruptcy and financial condition of the current owners of Deer Run Mine.

• Montgomery County residents have sacrificed for this longwall mine in many ways: the integrity of farmland, protection of water resources, water and air quality, lost airport, and safety from the high hazard coal slurry structures containing toxic heavy metals which will remain after the mining ends.

Phone the Illinois Department of Natural Resources 217-782-6302 and Land Reclamation Division 217-782-4970 and tell them that enough is enough and make the mine fix what they have already damaged. The Deer Run Mine’s 7,731.8-acre expansion should not be approved.

This ad sponsored by CALM / Citizens Against Longwall Mining

2021

Although beleaguered by pandemic and political upheaval in our country, just saying “2021” engenders hope and thoughts that we are surviving. The barriers that seem to exist in the resolution of some of our problems revolve around untruths and conspiracies. Using the CALM web site, we plan to do our part through the forthright dissemination of facts and information that can make a positive difference in our coalfield communities in Illinois and across the U. S.

Maxine Pohlman, SSND, who is the Director of LA Vista Ecological Learning Center in Godfrey, Illinois, is working with CALM and the Mining Issues Group of the Sierra Club in a mutual group effort toward addressing harmful coal mining impacts. She has written an article that links the message of Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si with the existing damages to coal mining communities. This encyclical title translates to “Praised Be: On the Care of the Common Home” was published on June 18, 2015. His proclamation emphasized that fighting climate change is a moral issue that requires environmental awareness and environmental justice.

Deer Run Coal Mine – Sinking the Heartland and Hearts by Maxine Pohlman, SSND

About an hour’s drive northeast of Immaculate Heart of Mary Novitiate and La Vista Ecological Learning Center lies the town of Hillsboro and the Deer Run Coal Mine. As part of my ministry at La Vista I joined the Mining Issues Group of the Sierra Club fighting longwall mining, a process used by Deer Run which extracts 90% of the coal, causing land above to subside 5 – 6 feet and changing it irreversibly. Homesteads, highways, schools, and whole communities have been lost or threatened due to “planned subsidence.”

Our work group includes members of CALM, Citizens Against Longwall Mining, and since 2004 they have been committed to opposing coal mining that destroys fertile farmland as well as coal ash and coal slurry disposal methods that threaten the health of their communities, their lands and waters. This is an example of social and environmental justice going hand-in-hand, as we read in Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’: The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation. (48)

In our meetings to determine actions to stop destructive mining, Mary Ellen DeClue, a member of CALM, raised this significant question: “Why are Illinois government agencies and legislators aligning with the interests of coal-fired utilities and coal mining companies to the detriment of the public they serve?” This theme is repeated weekly during our meetings, and in these comments I hear the frustration that comes when the burden of harm and cost is shifted to the local community, all to maximize short term gains by coal companies. The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together…

We are made aware that the coal processing plant is next door to Hillsboro Hospital, that contaminated liquid waste from the mine overflows into Central Park Creek that meanders past Hillsboro High School and Middle School through Hillsboro. The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together…

The agencies that regulate coal mining are allowed to be overly pressured by the industry that they oversee. Coal mining regulations are not enforced, and communities pay with their health and a degraded environment. The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together…

The wisdom of Laudato Si’ is exemplified in examples like this one all over the world every day. When will the human community start taking this wisdom to heart?

For more information visit CALM http://www.citizensagainstlongwallmining.org/ 

Watch the video “Sinking the Heartland” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXp6KRVgH6U

This article was first published in the 2021 Oblates of Mary Immaculate’s Newsletter on Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation.

Catherine Edmiston Memorial

Catherine Edmiston

Catherine Edmiston
December 6, 1929 ~ August 6, 2017

Catherine Edmiston: Reasons to Believe

By Jeff Biggers

“To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards out of men.”

–Ella Wheeler Wilcox, American poet

“I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

–Wendell Berry, American poet

Catherine “Cathy” Edmiston, friend, writer, farmer, teacher, community advocate,  quilter of communities:

In the heartland, she brought grace to the world, and a clear voice to our dirt roads, fields of corn and dreams, town centers, school rooms and state houses;

The last remaining petitioner fighting for justice regarding the revision of permits for the massive and toxic Deer Run coal slurry impoundment, taking the stand to testify against the phalanx of coal company legal teams and sycophantic state officials in the summer of 2015;

A relentless whistleblower who forewarned the Hillsboro community and central Illinois region about the safety of the Deer Run Mine longwall mine–which has remained idle for two years, as fires raged below and carbon monoxide levels triggered alarms;

A muckraker who exposed the corruption of the regulatory mining processes that legally allowed for violation-ridden mining practices, including violations of the Clean Water War, violations of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977, and untold violations of state regulations and laws;

A justice seeker who forewarned against reckless absentee corporate policies that resulted in violations of Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, engagement in sexual and gender discrimination, and violations of safety precautions for miners and surrounding communities;

In an interview with the Illinois Times in 2015, Cathy nailed the dilemma of our times, living in a state of constant violations: “Citizens shouldn’t have to hire a lawyer,” Edmiston said, “to make the corporations follow the law.”

Catherine Edmiston gave us a reason to believe in the still small possibility of justice for our communities.

 

Jeff Biggers is a noted and accomplished author of several publications including “Reckoning at Eagle Creek” and most recent, “The Trials of a Scold.”

 

Citizens Working to Improve Coal Communities in Montgomery County

Coal rights location map showing 120,000 acres that were sold by the Montgomery County board to an affiliate of Cline Group.

For the last several years the focus of Citizens Against Longwall Mining has been to minimize the environmental impacts from Deer Run Mine and maximize the community benefits from coal extraction in Montgomery County.

We have identified two primary approaches that would greatly help the economic and developmental growth in Montgomery County.

  1. A coal severance tax should be established in Illinois.
  2. The royalty rate per ton of coal extracted from Deer Run Mine should be increased.

It is hard to understand why Illinois is one of the few coal mining states that do not have a severance tax. West Virginia has a 6.5% and Wyoming a 10.6% coal severance tax. Some Illinois communities have shown their support for a coal severance tax. The Montgomery County Board passed a pro-severance tax resolution during Roy Hertel’s chairmanship. Benld City Council has also approved a resolution to establish a coal severance tax in Illinois. To date, unfortunately, the State of Illinois is more supportive of profits for the coal operator than promoting the needs of coalfield communities.

One proposed plan for a coal severance tax in Illinois was for one-third of collected revenue to go to coal extraction communities, one-third to the state general revenue fund, and one-third to a permanent legacy fund that would cover costs later after the coal companies are gone. There is abundant evidence to support the need for this proposal. There have been two schools destroyed by subsidence in our area, Benld, several years ago, and Swansea, this September, 2017. A legacy fund would have helped communities with expenses like school replacements and repair of damaged infrastructure.

Past experiences show that communities cannot depend on Illinois government agencies and legislators to go against the interests of the coal-utility complex. People power is the most effective way to address the needs of communities. To unite and inspire citizens to act in their own best interests, they must be made aware of the past and consequences that are occurring now and in the future.

Montgomery County and Hillsboro were horribly short-changed when the coal bargaining terms were set up. The coal rights for 120,000 acres were sold by the Montgomery County Board for only $7.2 million to an affiliate of Cline Group in December 2004. This group turned around a short time later and resold the coal rights to another Cline affiliate for $255 million or about 35 times more than initially sold by the Montgomery County Board!

The 2% royalty rate is also too low for any growth potential in Montgomery County. In fact, the 2% is really about 1.5% to the county after Deer Run Mine’s required payments like Black Lung, Abandoned Mines, transportation costs, etc. are subtracted.

In yet another case with questionable results between citizens of a community and the giant coal industry, the citizens of Hillsboro lost their airport and failed to receive fair compensation for this loss. The airport was not appraised as a certified, functioning airport, resulting in an appraisal far below replacement value. The Hillsboro Airport was sold to Hillsboro Energy LLC for $350,000 on January 9, 2008 with the stipulation that the airport would be replaced within 10 years. There still is no Hillsboro airport or plans in the making to construct one.

Citizens are at risk of losing money in more subtle ways. The permanent placement of two high-hazard coal slurry impoundments, the violations of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, subsided farmland, and compromised roadways caused by Deer Run Mine are bound to adversely affect property values in Montgomery County. The community is not sharing in the wealth from coal extraction, and these companies should pay back to communities they have adversely affected. Our schools and communities are not receiving the funding that they need to provide 21st century opportunities.

Harm is caused to coalfield communities in many ways, and some are unexpected, but extremely dangerous. Deer Run Mine is sealed due to an ongoing fire that has been burning since March 2015. Even though Deer Run Mine is inactive, Hillsboro Energy LLC applied to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Office of mines and Minerals for a 7,731.8 acre expansion in 2015. IDNR/OMM has not approved or denied the permit application.

The underground fire has not been extinguished after several attempts and should be a major concern to everyone in Montgomery County. There seems to be no accountability for the community’s safety. This ever present danger to the community must be in the forefront of communications with the mine. Citizens need to know where the fire is located since Deer Run Mine is located in the City of Hillsboro. Is the fire migrating and in what direction?

When the Hillsboro Zoning Board of Appeals amended the land use plan to allow underground coal mining, the stated reason for the zoning change was “…to promote economic growth of the community, conserve property values, and protect the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of the City of Hillsboro, Illinois…” Instead, much the opposite has resulted, our community continues to struggle financially and area citizen’s health and safety are at greater risk. For improvement and growth in Montgomery County, residents must unite and work toward a community benefit plan that holds coal operators responsible to the region in a way that enhances the quality of life for all.