The 5 year renewal of Permit 399 for Deer Run Mine is under consideration by Office of Mines and Minerals (OMM) in the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). For over 4 years, Citizens Against Longwall Mining (CALM) and Sierra Club petitioners never got to present their experts or present their full case against this permit. The petitioners against Permit 399 were dismissed on Halloween 2013 by a new IDNR Hearing Officer. It was fitting that the dismissal occurred during IDNR’s Halloween costume parade since the petitioners had already experienced several years of horror and disbelief on the Permit 399 challenge.
The reality of the 4-year battle to challenge Permit 399 with IDNR/OMM involved: an adversarial relationship, dismissal of petitioners on questionable basis, prolonged delays, and stonewalled and unfulfilled FOIA requests. The most threatening action of IDNR/OMM was its request to Hearing Officer (H. O.) Michael O’Hara to sanction the petitioners and our lawyer after a Summary Judgment filing was submitted in July, 2010. After this filing, eight motions were left unanswered by Mr. O’Hara and our case remained on a hiatus for over 2 years. A new IDNR Hearing Officer was assigned to the case and began issuing a response to motions in 2013.
In September 2013 the sanctioning threat motion to our first lawyer was answered and it acknowledged the entry filing made in February 2011 of David L. Wentworth II, the lawyer filing to represent the petitioners. The second IDNR Hearing Officer did not dismiss the sanctioning threat to the petitioners. Without answering other pending motions, the petitioners were dismissed with the stated reason that their attorney had not met a filing deadline. Subsequently, attorney Wentworth, acting for the petitioners, filed an appeal on the Halloween dismissal with IDNR and also filed a Complaint for Administrative Review with the Circuit Court of Sangamon County.
There have been 4 permit applications to OMM by the Deer Run Mine company Hillsboro Energy LLC (HEL): original 399 Permit, Significant Revision 1 of Permit 399 for impoundment 1, Permit 424 for the 2nd impoundment, and renewal of Permit 399. Citizens are greatly concerned about the power of OMM to make changes that it deems acceptable to coal mining permits as “Insignificant Revisions” which are not placed on public notice and have no comment opportunity. At Deer Run Mine, as of January 2014, there are 12 Insignificant Permit Revisions and 6 Insignificant Boundary Revisions for Permit 399.
Citizens feel that OMM delayed and impaired their public participation as established by state and federal mining laws. The administrative review process should have been handled in a timely manner, accepting of concerned citizens’ involvement, and open to freedom of information requests. It is the responsibility of IDNR to hire an appropriate hearing officer to conduct the Administrative Review, but there were delays and a 2 year hiatus of the first hearing officer.
Many issues and inadequacies of Permit 399 exist. These include additional safety and environmental threats resulting from coal production and Deer Run Mine expansion to a proposed 2nd high hazard dam coal slurry impoundment. OMM never addressed the inadequate cumulative hydrologic impact area and unlisted stream tributaries that HEL presented in the Permit 399 application. The drainage problem of subsided farmland and the permeation of coal dust in the atmosphere are still facing the community.
The potential for groundwater and surface water contamination, including Old Hillsboro Lake, is increased by ignoring hydrologic issues and location of impoundments. The likelihood of failure and leakage will only multiply over time, which is a permanent problem for the community since the impoundments plus coal slurry will remain in place covered with soil in perpetuity. Failure of the impoundments would inundate portions of Hillsboro, Schram City and surrounding area with millions of gallons of noxious coal slurry according to the maps presented by the coal company in their permit applications.
If justice were the issue; it did not occur. The opponents to 399 had no idea of the coming intimidating legal ramifications and the resulting economic and personal stresses that included “sanctioning” by the state. Sadly, intimidation by IDNR/OMM is employed as an effective approach in squelching individual objections to Deer Run Mine. The community, health of residents and the environment are still at risk; so once again IDNR/OMM’s “unique” application of state and federal mining laws enhanced coal profits on the backs of citizens.