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Wednesday, July 30, 2008 01:40 am

Determined opposition

Banner area residents push for state to overturn mine permit

"I drove through farm ground getting here today — I fall in love with the soybeans, corn, and hay," Richard Fuller told the small crowd that assembled last week at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources building for round two of the Banner Mine administrative hearing.

Fuller, who described himself as a "75-plus-year-old" farmer, suggested that Capital Resources Development Co.'s plan to strip-mine a 430.6-acre tract near Banner — a village 25 miles southwest of Peoria in Fulton County — would destroy the area's topsoil and make future planting nearly impossible.

The proposed mine's effect on agriculture was just one of the topics that surfaced during the hearing, where Fuller and 11 other concerned petitioners testified in an attempt to prove that the IDNR's Office of Mines and Minerals erred in granting Capital a mining permit last November.

Fuller, former owner of a duck-hunting club, mentioned that the noise from the mine could disturb the area's already declining population of wood ducks and mallards, as well as its osprey. He also said he was concerned about displaced water flooding his 85-acre farm, which is north of the permit area.

"When it rains 2 or 3 inches, we have a lot of water run off the hillsides," Fuller said. "[The Illinois River] can't handle the water that runs into it and backs up in the proposed mine area."

When he was about 15 years old, Fuller continued, he helped build a fence on his property. When he dug down into the ground to install the posts, he discovered water after 3 feet. Virginia Yang, chief legal counsel for the IDNR, asked during cross-examination whether the water halted the project.

"It didn't hurry it up," Fuller replied, eliciting chuckles from the audience.

Hearing officer Michael O'Hara interjected, demanding to know the relevancy of discussing a fence that was built 55 years ago or longer. Tom Davis, chief of the environmental bureau for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, said that Fuller's example demonstrated that the water table has always been high in that area. Even though there was water, Yang argued, the project was still completed.

Several more Banner residents and representatives from area environmental groups signed up to testify, but because of a power outage in the building and limited time the administrative hearing was once again postponed. It will reconvene at the IDNR on Aug. 21.

After the hearing, Yang said she's not surprised that things are moving slowly. Because it's a legal proceeding, she explains, it takes time to move the facts forward.

"We want everyone to have their say, because it does affect their area," Yang says. "We also want the mining company to have their say. You really can't take any shortcuts."

Joyce Blumenshine, a representative from the Heart of Illinois Sierra Club and one of the main organizers of the petitioners' efforts, says that the Banner citizens are committed to overturning the IDNR's decision. Many have taken off work and have paid for food, gas, and hotels during both sets of meetings.

"I am impressed by the determination of the Banner citizens and the people working with them to bring attention to the problems with the permit," Blumenshine says.

She says there are several topics left to discuss in August, including the archeological loss to the Illinois River area, the adverse impact on the short-eared owl and the river otter, and the need to protect Banner Marsh and Rice Lake — two state fish and wildlife areas that are publicly owned by Illinois residents.

Capital and Banner residents have disagreed over the proposed mine project since 2002, when the coal company first requested a mining permit from the IDNR [see Amanda Robert, "The price of coal," June 26].

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.

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