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 3% royalty rate is also too low for any growth potential in Montgomery County. In fact, the 3% 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.

 

Montgomery County Residents Express Concerns Over Deer Run Mine Expansion

William Schroeder, a landowner concerned by the proposed expansion area, addresses Scott Fowler (rt) and Cliff Johnson, Land Reclamation Specialist, about the lack of a formulated plan to handle the drainage issues of subsided land with no timeframe for reclamation. William questioned how the subsidence of each sunken panel going north to south could be corrected when each time there is a hill to overcome. Mr. Fowler agreed that the situation is more difficult.

Nearly fifty concerned citizens, local officials and area farmers attended the February 11th “Informal Conference” held by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Office of Mines and Minerals in Hillsboro at the Montgomery County Historic Courthouse.

Hillsboro Energy, LLC has submitted an application for a Significant Revision No. 2 to Permit 399 for Deer Run Mine.

Scott Fowler, Division Manager and Hearing Officer for the Informal Conference, listens to Larry Schraut at the podium. Larry farms land that is located in the shadow area in both the original and proposed expansion of Deer Run Mine. He questioned why IDNR/OMM would approve an expansion when they don’t know if the subsided land with drainage problems can be reclaimed as documented by the little progress that has been made on correcting the sunken areas of panels 1 and 2 after several years. Mr. Fowler commented that as long as the mine is fulfilling the obligations of its current permit, it has an opportunity to be able to expand its mining area.

An “Informal Conference” is supposed to be an opportunity for questions and answers regarding a new coal mine permit application, revision, or renewal. Per the federal Surface Mining Control, Reclamation and Enforcement Act an Informal Conference can serve to answer questions regarding a new mine permit so there is no need for a Public Hearing on the application.

Scott Fowler, Division Manager, Office of Mines and Minerals, IDNR and Hearing Officer for the Informal Conference.

Needless to say, citizens have also requested a Public Hearing as many of their questions were not answered. The Public Hearing has been scheduled by Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Office of Mines and Minerals on March 24th at 5 p.m. at the Montgomery County Historic Courthouse.

Below are some key issues and concerns raised at the Informal Conference:

1. In spite of being shut down due to an ongoing underground mine fire, the mine has applied for a 7,731.8 acre expansion for underground mining in the shadow area. This huge increase in available coal mining area is nearly double the size of the originally permitted underground mining area. Thousands of acres of prime flat farmland are included in this longwall mining application and hence will be subject to subsidence if this new permit is approved.

2. If Deer Run Mine is expanded, there was a request not to use the 2 existing impoundments for storage of coal waste. The two slurry impoundments upon failure would damage Hillsboro Lake and many homes and businesses as shown by the inundation maps.

3. Many citizens were concerned about water resources being contaminated and compromised to the extent that the stream could not be used for cattle or wildlife. After coal has been mined for 5 years at Deer Run Mine, surface waters around Deer Run Mine are contaminated as indicated by their high conductivity.

4. The mine also proposes to subside (drop the surface of the land unevenly four to six feet with permanent earthquake-like impacts) on the western edges of Coffeen Lake, which is an IDNR Fish and Wildlife area. Bear Creek and McDavid Branch will also be subsided. Although there will be material damage to water resources and farmland from subsidence, there is no additional bonding planned for the proposed expansion at Deer Run Mine.

5. Local farmers expressed again their concerns about long-term drainage problems and they questioned how subsided farmland would be reclaimed. It became apparent that there is no formulated plan on how the water drainage on subsided land would be handled and certainly no timeframe for completion.

6. Area citizens have worries that the mine processing plant producing air pollution and causing health risks would only be prolonged with an expansion. There is no change with the expansion in the lifetime air permit which does not monitor air on or off the mine site. Residents have endured coal dust, fumes, and noxious odors and these unhealthy events would be increased with the additional 7,731.8 acres.

7. With an approved expansion, the mine will be able to extract coal for several decades as long as Hillsboro Energy, LLC renews the permit every 5 years. The fiscal solvency of Deer Run Mine was questioned. There were worries about who would pay future costs of reclamation after the mine closes.

8. The potential of longwall mining under the land will lower area property values and quality of life. Many of the mineral rights of landowners were severed years, decades, or even a century ago from their surface land. The rights of landowners are superseded by the rights of Deer Run Mine.

Excerpts of citizen testimony and state agency responses are at the video link below, thanks to the work of Pam and Lan Richart of Eco-Justice, Champaign, Illinois.

Larry Schraut testimony.

William Schroeder testimony.

Deer Run Hearing Underscores Citizens’ Frustrations

 

The proposed toxic coal waste impoundment will be nearly twice the size of the existing one pictured here.

The proposed toxic coal waste impoundment will be nearly twice the size of the existing one pictured here.

The Hillsboro Energy, LLC Deer Run Mine located within the city limits of the City of Hillsboro in Montgomery County has been a source of frustration for area residents since its inception nine years ago. The June 4th, Illinois EPA permit hearing regarding pollution discharges from a new, giant coal waste disposal area at the mine was no exception.

Read more . . . .

 

Water Hearings for 2nd Coal Waste Impoundment at Deer Run

Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA)
Notice of Water Discharge Permit (NPDES) & 401 Water Quality Certification
Public Hearings

Hillsboro Energy, LLC
Deer Run Mine Refuse Disposal Area No. 2

Wednesday, June 4, 2014
Hillsboro High School

522 East Tremont Street, Hillsboro, Illinois

NPDES Permit Hearing at 5 p.m.
401 Water Quality Certification Hearing at 7:30 p.m.

Please refer to these documents for additional information including how, where and when to file written comments.
Click here for the NPDES information.

Click here for the 401 Certification information.

5 Year Renewal of Permit 399 for Deer Run Mine Does Not Protect Citizens

coaldustPermit 399 does not protect citizens and the environment from the impact of coal mining as state and federal mining laws intended. Specifically, Permit 399 does not provide adequate monitoring to show or establish that there is compliance with the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.

Permit 399 for Deer Run Mine should not be renewed for another 5 years.  In fact, Permit 399 should never have been approved.

Illinois Department of Natural Resources Office of Mines and Minerals (IDNR/OMM) not only approved an incomplete permit, but also turned over the water and air quality to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA). When citizens expressed concerns about the impact of coal on their air, water, and community, IDNR/OMM responded that these issues were not in their purview. IDNR/OMM should be responsible for impacts from the mine as outlined in state and federal mining laws and that is not happening.

By turning over environmental responsibility of Deer Run Mine to IEPA, IDNR/OMM has essentially set up conditions that complicate and often hinder enforcement of mining laws. IDNR/OMM has granted Deer Run certain exemptions, which make the community even more vulnerable.  Runoff from railroad loading zones and mine roadways are allowed to drain into the area surrounding the mine without any treatment. The most harmful components of coal are not monitored or analyzed so contamination of surface water like Central Park Creek is a threat. There is no monitoring of fugitive emissions that are unique to coal mining. There are no limitations in noise or time delays in road use due to rail transport. In short, Permit 399 does not reasonably protect citizens from the harmful effects of coal processing and transport in the community.

Deer Run Mine was granted a lifetime air permit with particulate matter limitations but it is not doing any monitoring.  With the coal processing plant so close to the hospital and nursing home, the coal dust is potentially very harmful to residents.  Many months ago, a petition signed by 364 citizens to have air monitors placed at the hospital and nursing home was presented to Mayor Downs. Hopefully, the citizens’ petition will be honored and air monitors will be established, possibly with Deer Run’s assistance; but, to date this has not happened.

When Roger Dennison (President of Hillsboro Energy, LLC) presented the positive aspects that coal mining will bring to Montgomery County at the Permit 399 hearing, he asked that we give the mine a chance to be a good neighbor. Well, the citizens of Montgomery County have given Deer Run Mine an excellent chance and they are still waiting for the good neighbor response from Deer Run.

In Tuesday’s (Feb. 18, 2014) Journal-News article on page 7B titled, “EPA Files Rules About Coke and Coal Piles,” the importance of dust suppression and enclosure of coal piles was given major emphasis. The damage to health resulting from fugitive coal dust should be a concern to all of us. For the record, a copy of the above news article was submitted into the record at the hearing.

Deer-Run-Mine-AerialPerhaps the greatest threat to Hillsboro is the permanent existence of high-rise impoundments that can leak and fail over time. The non-impounding coal refuse area as presented in permit 399 was altered through revisions that did not allow for public involvement. The incised waste area was converted to a high-hazard 80-foot dam impoundment made of coarse coal waste. In doing this, IDNR/OMM was representing Hillsboro Energy LLC (HEL), not the interests of citizens in Montgomery County.

 

From a background perspective, it is important to point out that the location of the slurry waste area in Permit 399 was suggested by the Montgomery County Soil and Water Conversation District to be moved out of the Hillsboro Lake’s watershed. This agency also pointed out that the permit application failed to include all the intermittent streams within the permit and shadow areas and are therefore vulnerable to contamination and mine runoff. Montgomery County SWCD also questioned how the drainage and restoration of the longwall subsidence could be accomplished within one year as proposed.  The very pertinent Montgomery County SWCD letter dated March 24, 2008 to Mr. Scott Fowler was not discovered until November 6, 2012 through a FOIA request to the Montgomery County SWCD.  This letter was not available for reviewing or found in the Permit 399 file. A copy of this letter was submitted for the record.

There are techniques that could be used to process coal that would not result in high hazard impoundments, but IDNR/OMM approves what the coal operator wants, not what is best for the community. HEL has applied for a 2nd impoundment that is twice the size as the first and closer to residents in Hillsboro and Schram City. Failure of this impoundment would inundate portions of Hillsboro and Schram City with tragic consequences.

IDNR/OMM intends to approve this high risk coal slurry impoundment even with the location creating a serious potential threat to residents.

Illinois is now experiencing what is called the West Virginia Syndrome–the production of coal with the coal operator shielded from its responsibility to the community. In Illinois, the government officials and regulatory agencies, similar to West Virginia, are beholden to coal. They can see the damage that coal has done to West Virginia citizens, but our officials seem immune to the reality. Chris Cline, owner of Deer Run, has established himself in West Virginia and identifies with Don Blankenship of Massey Energy as a talented coal leader. So far, the policies in Illinois have followed the same favoritism to coal as in West Virginia.

Before we have any more irreversible damage, IDNR/OMM must start enforcing mining laws with the protection of citizens in mind to prevent a repeat of the environmental disasters in Illinois that have already occurred in West Virginia.