Pastors’ Coalfields Tour of Macoupin and Montgomery Counties

Pastors from a wide area, including Chicago, Central and Southern Illinois, Kentucky and Indiana toured various places in Macoupin and Montgomery County on  April 24-25 under the leadership of Rev. Brian Sauder, Champaign  and Rev. Dr. Claire Butterfield of “Faith in Place” in Chicago. They heard about the moral issues of coal mining and the way it is carried out in Illinois. Pastors heard from Citizens Against Longwall Mining (CALM) members in Montgomery County as well as listened to rural residents of Macoupin County who have been greatly affected by longwall mining. Sierra Club, Prairie Rivers Network and Heartland Coalfield Alliance members were also represented.

The tour began at Virden, Illinois where the group visited the Memorial built for miners. They then set off on the tour, which included sites of longwall mining damage, waste impoundments and streams that have been affected. Loss of farm neighbors is one of the great regrets of one Macoupin County farmer who said, “The Carlinville-Litchfield road has been rebuilt after seven years of closure, but I don’t drive it anymore because all of my neighbors are gone!”

Another farmer pointed out how the ground has dropped four or five feet from a railroad that runs through the land, which has been built up to its original height since the mining.  Large drainage ditches have been dug, in an effort to drain water, but farmers have to drive a long way around them to get to the fields they farm.  Empty farmhouses are often vandalized and have been burned down.

Jeff Biggers, author, and actor gave a program to the group at Hampton Inn following a dinner at Ruby Tuesdays in Litchfield Wednesday night. Biggers signed copies of his book, “Reckoning at Eagle Creek.” He has written a new book which is coming out in September, titled “State Out of the Union,” which he researched recently in Arizona. Biggers is also a writer for Huffington Post, and author of the book, “The United States of Appalachia.”

A Montgomery County farmer narrated a tour of Deer Run Mine area at Hillsboro on Thursday. The mine, and waste impoundment, with a high hazard dam, have been built within the city limit and within sight of Hillsboro Hospital, the prison, a nursing home, and meeting halls, as well as homes. CALM members told of permanent damage of farmland, water pollution, homes destroyed, IDNR favoring coal corporations over citizens rights, and the dragging out of law cases for years, which are some of the issues involved.