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Wednesday, June 25, 2008 03:24 am

The price of coal

Experts outline Banner mine’s potential impact on nearby

Untitled Document Several state environmental experts testified at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources building Monday and Tuesday during the first round of an administrative hearing to determine whether the IDNR erred in approving a permit for the Capital Resources Development Co. to strip-mine a 430.6-acre tract near Banner, a village 25 miles southwest of Peoria in Fulton County. Hydrologist Chuck Norris spoke about the effects of the strip mine on Banner Marsh and Rice Lake, two state fish and wildlife areas that surround the proposed site. Norris said that the mine could drain water from the two sources, resulting in a permanent loss to the area. He also said that the mine could lower the pool of groundwater under Banner, possibly contaminating the residents’ only water supply with trace and toxic metals. Not enough site-specific data was included in the permit application, Norris concluded, so the department only received “a snapshot” of the area’s water elements. “You need to know how the site is working before you change it,” he said. R. Given Harper, a professor of biology at Illinois Wesleyan University, testified Tuesday about the strip mine’s potential impact on bald eagles and osprey, two at-risk bird species that nest nearby. Although he admitted that some eagles habituate to their surroundings, including such disruptions as highway traffic, Given said that scientific studies show that human activity usually lowers survival for the birds and their nestlings. “Any potential habitat in the proposed site will be destroyed,” Given said. “Noise from trucks, heavy machinery, blasting activity, and also toxins could cause harm.”
Terrence Ingram of the Eagle Nature Foundation and representatives from the Heart of Illinois Sierra Club and the Citizens Organizing Project were on hand Tuesday as well but were not able to testify before time ran out. Because of scheduling conflicts, the administrative hearing will not reconvene at the IDNR until July 23. Capital was given the go-ahead in November by the IDNR’s Office of Mines and Minerals for a strip mine that would produce about 1.6 million short tons of coal over five years. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan took an interest in the issue earlier in the year, arguing that the mine would harm wetlands and wildlife. The attorney general’s office filed a petition requesting a rehearing on the decision; Tom Davis, chief of the environmental bureau, now represents the environmentalists and Banner citizens in the case. It’s been a rocky road for both Capital and Banner since the coal company first requested a mining permit from the IDNR in 2002. The citizens objected to the plan, citing the potential for contamination of the village’s water supply and also the risk of a negative impact on nearby Banner Marsh and Rice Lake. A group of Banner citizens and the Heart of Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club — with the support of Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn — filed a “lands unsuitable for mining” petition in July 2005, but the IDNR denied the petition, stating that the window for discussion had closed. The application process had ended and the proposed operation had been advertised several times in the local newspaper in 2004. After previously requesting modifications, in December 2005 the IDNR also denied Capital’s permit application. The coal company requested administrative review of the decision, and in April 2007 an administrative hearing officer remanded the IDNR’s denial and ordered further review of the original application and its modifications. At the same time, Banner citizens filed a second “lands unsuitable” petition, but it was again denied by the IDNR for being untimely filed during the department’s administrative review of its denial of the mine permit. Banner citizens contested the IDNR’s decision in May 2007. The issue is pending.
In July 2007, the IDNR issued a second modification letter to Capital, which submitted the requested information and received final mine permit approval in November. In the decision, the department stated that there was no evidence that the site was unsuitable for mining because it was not within a national park or wildlife refuge system; was not within 100 feet of public roads or within 300 feet of dwellings, public buildings, or parks; and would minimally affect agriculture and wildlife.
Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.
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