Deer Run Mine to Construct High Hazard Coal Slurry Impoundment in City of Hillsboro


Construction on High Hazard Coal Slurry Impoundment at Deer Run Mine, Hillsboro, IL, 8/12/2011

In 2009 when Hillsboro Energy, LLC got the go-ahead to build a new coal mine, the permit application approved by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Mines and Minerals made no mention of a massive coal slurry impoundment to be located within the city of Hillsboro. Local residents asked mine representatives time and again at presentations and public hearings – where will the mine put all its toxic waste?

Now, local residents finally have their answer: the mine will dump hundreds of millions of gallons of coal slurry – the liquid waste product leftover after coal is processed, which is full of harmful metals and other pollution – into an 80 ft. tall impoundment that will cover over one square mile. This is rated as a High Hazard dam, meaning that if the coal slurry impoundment were to fail, it would result in massive loss of life and property in Hillsboro and Schram City, and could send pollution downstream into Old Lake Hillsboro.

Adding insult to injury, residents just found out that this coal slurry impoundment will last the mine fewer than 5 years – meaning that every 5 years, the community can expect the mine to build another of these High Hazard coal slurry impoundments in their backyard.

And that’s only the beginning – Deer Run mine used the Insignificant Permit Revision and Incidental Boundary Revision process to receive approval from IDNR to build the entire base of the High Hazard coal slurry impoundment and begin dumping coal slurry there before any opportunity for public comment, and before the mine received a dam permit from IDNR’s Office of Water Resources.

At the August 13th Office of Mines and Minerals public informal conference on the proposed coal slurry impoundment, local residents raised these and other concerns, including that the Public Notice for the coal slurry impoundment’s dam permit was not actually publicized. The Illinois Attorney General’s Office soon weighed in on the issue of public notice with a letter, because local residents and even their elected officials were completely unaware of the proposed changes in the permit that would leave an 80-ft. mountain of coal waste in their community forever.

Unfortunately, the response from IDNR has been predictable. Instead of requiring the mine to stop slurry disposal and dam construction activities until this issue is resolved, IDNR’s Office of Water Resources rescinded its original Cease and Desist Order and opted to grant Deer Run Mine an Emergency Dam Permit – allowing the mine to proceed with building this High Hazard Dam before the agency considers comments from the public. In the meantime, the Office of Mines and Minerals maintained at the Public Hearing on October 11th that this “bait and switch” is perfectly legal, even though there was no opportunity for public comment before much of the structure was already built.

It might be expected that the local press could be counted on for balanced coverage of these developments at the Deer Run mine, considering the massive loss of life and property that coal slurry and coal ash impoundment failures have caused in the past, and the damage they’ve done to groundwater in Illinois. But instead, Hillsboro’s Journal-News has refused to publish a letter from a professional engineer Bob Johnson documenting the threats posed by coal slurry impoundments and IDNR’s unwillingness to enforce the law which requires coal mines to clean up these waste dumps after mining is over. The Journal-News was also unaware of the publicly available information that the mine has already violated its water pollution permit 24 times.

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