Can Hillsboro Afford the Money Drain of Deer Run Mine?

Mining coal brings in millions of dollars in profits for out of state coal companies – but how much of that actually benefits the Illinois communities where coal is mined? The city of Hillsboro – where a West Virginia coal company has begun work on the massive new Deer Run mine – is concerned about the lack of funds available to manage its financial obligations. The city’s finance Commissioner, Richard Small has suggested possible ways to increase revenue including a sales tax increase, a telecommunication tax on cell phones and landlines, and phasing out extra benefit perks for employees and volunteers.

With Hillsboro’s obvious cash flow problem, it is puzzling why the city has paid over $1.6 million in 2011 for bills of Deer Run Mine. For example, at the December 13, 2011 City Council meeting, it was decided to borrow $52,000 for a scheduled water tower payment, but the commissioners voted to pay a $139,050 bill for the mine. In 2009, 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, the mine has become a financial drain on the area, becoming a prime example of what should not be allowed to happen when a new coal mine comes into a community.

While the Hillsboro area is suffering financially,  billionaire Chris Cline, owner of Foresight Energy Partners and Deer Run Mine, has filed an initial public offering that is expected to bring in over $100 million. Meanwhile, the people of Montgomery County are being paid a pittance for the coal under their feet. The coal rights for over 200 million tons of coal reserves were sold by Montgomery County Board to an affiliate of the Cline Group, in December, 2004 for only $7.2 million, which then turned around and resold those coal rights to another Cline affiliate for $255 million. It is more than a tragedy that our community has been so misled.

The city and county leaders are promoting Deer Run Mine with the cooperation from the Office of Mines and Minerals and Office of Water Resources in the Department of Natural Resources. The mine has been given free range to make profits and grow. So citizens of Hillsboro, we must defend our community and quality of life for our children and grandchildren. Our government and regulatory agencies have not done their job to protect us.