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Thursday, Aug. 5, 2010 05:30 am

Longwall mining damages land near Hillsboro

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The longwall mining collapse caused a depression in a drainage ditch adjacent to a country road near the Cottonwood Creek area.
PHOTO BY JACKSON ADAMS

Peggy Klaus stands next to what was once a road that formed the path between farms outside of Litchfield. The retired Carlinville schoolteacher remembers the day in 1990 that the road was closed, the damage done to it making it unusable. She remembers drivers having to turn around to deal with the sudden loss of a thoroughfare. After the road was gone, it wasn’t long until people started selling their land and farms.

“The people won’t be coming back,” Klaus said.

The land had been selected for longwall mining. Cline Mining Corp. began buying land, prepping the ground for the damaging mining practices that would take place far below it. Few people in the area knew the damage that the practice would do.

“We didn’t know what longwall mining was, but we learned,” Klaus said.

Longwall mining is a form of underground coal mining where large slabs of coal are mined in a single slice. Coal is cut from the face of the slab, with poles holding up the roof until the coal is removed, allowing miners to harvest as much as possible before intentionally collapsing the area. This method allows for considerably more coal collection than the more traditional room-and-pillar mining.

The problem with the system is the damage that longwall mining inflicts on the surface of the land. Removing the slabs can lead to sinking on the surface, with some land sinking down 15 feet, causing damage to roads and formations of creeks in what was once profitable farmland.

Cline Mining continues to damage farmland and buys land from struggling farmers. Its mining efforts are expanding, with new mines starting closer to Hillsboro. Many townspeople begrudgingly support the business. In a time when jobs are increasingly hard to find, the development of longwall mining in the area promises to bring jobs to many people in the area, despite the cost for others.

“All of this is just jobs,” said Joyce Blumenshine of Peoria, mining issues committee chair for the Illinois Chapter Sierra Club. “No one is concerned about the side effects. If you have a heart, you won’t just think about the jobs. You’ll think about the side effects.”

Blumenshine accepts that in coal-rich areas like Hillsboro and the surrounding towns, mining is going to be a part of life, but she is concerned about the effects that this sort of mining will have on the land and its occupants.

“We’re not against mining, per se, but this longwall mining is going to ruin the land,” Blumenshine said.

While the more traditional practice of room-and-pillar mining could be used in the area instead, the practice takes considerably longer to set up and execute. Room-and-pillar mining is also less likely to cause deep permanent damage to land. However, longwall mining can extract up to 80 percent of the coal in the extraction site, dramatically increasing the potential for profit.

Despite obvious damage to the land as well as problems at the site of one of the newly developed mines, some Hillsboro residents are concerned that people don’t know the danger that the mine holds for them and their property. Lee Schraut, a retired Hillsboro farmer, thinks that despite the outcries from a few concerned citizens, some people are completely unaware of what is happening, many not knowing the danger some of the coal waste can do if it leaks into creeks.

“No one seems to be concerned with the closeness of the mine site,” Schraut said. “One guy came to a meeting and was [complaining] that he was going to get dust in his windows. He didn’t even know about the mines.”

Klaus also thinks that many people don’t care about the damage that longwall mining has caused, or they simply don’t know about what is happening, despite information presented to them.

“Being a teacher, I know that people don’t read,” Klaus said.

Contact Jackson Adams at jadams@illinoistimes.com.

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