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Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009 04:13 pm

Attorney general files complaint to stop proposed central Illinois strip mine

Madigan say DNR erred in approving mine permit in 2007


Environmental experts and area residents claim that the proposed Banner Mine, a strip mine similar to this one in Kentucky, would harm at-risk species like osprey, as well as nearby farmland and water supplies.

Strip mining — a type of surface mining that involves excavating earth, rock and other sediment to uncover coal — has once again come under fire in central Illinois.

Last month Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a complaint in Fulton County, asking that the circuit court require the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to rescind the permit for strip mining a 430.6-acre tract near Banner, a village located 85 miles northwest of Springfield.

Delaware-based Capital Resources Development Company first requested a permit from DNR’s Office of Mines and Minerals to mine 1.6 million short tons of coal from the area in 2002. In the past seven years, the attorney general’s office, as well as local residents and environmental groups, have repeatedly objected to Capital’s plan, citing concerns over potential effects on nearby Banner Marsh and Rice Lake State Fish and Wildlife Areas and contamination of Banner’s water supply.

DNR issued a permit for the proposed Banner Mine in November 2007, but the following month, Madigan filed a petition requesting an internal administrative review of the decision. From June to November 2008, a state hearing officer heard concerns from area environmental experts and citizens to determine if DNR erred in approving the permit. Nearly a year later, on Sept. 15, the officer returned the permit to DNR and ordered further review of the application.

Madigan’s most recent complaint, filed on Oct. 9, requests that the Fulton County circuit court find that DNR and its hearing officer failed to “timely commence” the administrative review. The complaint also asks the court to reverse DNR’s findings that the company’s plan would not impact the area’s endangered or threatened species and their habitats.

“The facts indicate that a strip mine at this location will be harmful to the local environment and the people that live nearby,” Madigan said in a statement. “I am asking the court to hear the many voices from the Banner area who have expressed their concern and to reevaluate the facts regarding this permit.”

DNR spokesman Chris McCloud confirmed that DNR would ask Capital to modify and resubmit its permit application, but could not comment on the complaint filed by the attorney general’s office.

“The department can’t comment on issues that are pending legal matters,” McCloud says. “We’re going to let the legal process take its course and go from there.”

Joyce Blumenshine, a volunteer with the Heart of Illinois Sierra Club, is an opponent of Banner Mine and joined several Banner residents in frequent trips to Springfield during last year’s six-month administrative review. The strip-mining permit is currently in limbo, she says — DNR has not yet determined if this is an appropriate place for mining.

There are many issues that have not been addressed, Blumenshine adds, including how eagles and osprey, two at-risk bird species that nest nearby, will be affected and how farmland will be reclaimed after mining ends. Additionally, an updated wildlife-resource assessment needs to be performed to reveal if other endangered or threatened plant and animal species have appeared on the property.

The Banner Mine issue is a concern for all Illinois citizens, Blumenshine says. Even if they don’t fish, bird-watch or hunt, their future generations could access Banner Marsh and Rice Lake if the lands are preserved and protected.

“The attorney general has again showed a real concern for representing the people’s interest in this state and the protection of the environment,” Blumenshine says. “This is one of the most heartening things I have seen in state government in quite some time.”

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.


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