The land is owned by Arch Coal and the Viper Mine, who want to
rezone the land from Agriculture to M-3 Extraction. The land would
be used to build a new disposal facility to contain refuse from coal
that has been brought up from the coal mine near Williamsville.
The vote was postponed in October in order to allow the State’s
Attorney, Jonathan Wright, to double check with pieces of state
legislation on environmental concerns.
Before the board members discussed the potential rezoning, public
comments were heard from guests in attendance.
Tracy Barkley, a water resource scientist from Prairie Rivers
Network, spoke to the board members. Barkley said that Prairie
Rivers works mostly with policies such as the Clean Water Act and
the Sustainable Drinking Water Act and works to see they are upheld.
Barkley said that the title 35 of the Illinois Administrative Code
contains an exception for coal mines and surface impoundments when
dealing with water supplies. Specifically, the standards for
drinking water do not apply when a mine is in operation, and that
the standards are lowered during reclamation efforts.
Barkley said that the coal ash has led to contamination at the CWLP
disposal site. CWLP (Springfield) purchases coal from the Viper
Mine, and there is an agreement in place that the mine takes back
coal ash that cannot be disposed of at CWLP.
“Once contamination of the ground water resource takes place, the
standard protocols that are often used are for the mine to buy
adjacent property and contaminated lands…or apply for a ground water
management zone from the state,” said Barkley. Barkley added that if
the state granted such a zone, the water would have to be pumped
well into the future.
Tyler Roche, another employee of Prairie Rivers, added that coal is
becoming less prevalent for generating power in the United States,
and CWLP will likely begin reducing the amount of coal they buy in
“Eight of CWLP’s coal-fire units were retired in 2009, and according
their consultants, three of the remaining four need to be either
retired, upgraded, or switched to natural gas by 2017,” said Roche.
Daniel Hamilton, an attorney with Brown, Hay & Stephens, LLP of
Springfield, spoke on behalf of those opposing the rezone. Hamilton
repeated statements made at previous meetings, that the application
for rezoning is insufficient for justification of the request.
“If this might be unsafe, that’s contrary to the health and
well-being of the people of Logan County,” said Hamilton.
Hamilton reiterated that from his perspective, the county board
“can’t vote in favor of it. It’s that simple.”
Hamilton said that the only justification that has been provided is
that jobs might be lost. “We’ve heard that from engineers. We
haven’t heard that corporate directors, we haven’t heard that from a
board of directors, we haven’t heard that from anyone within the
company that has the authority to so state,” said Hamilton.
James Evan Cook, a resident of Elkhart, told the board members of a
coal mine accident that occurred near his family in Wales. Cook said
that a coal slurry impoundment suffered a breach in 1966, and more
than one hundred people died as a result.
“What’s shocking is that it took until 1997 for compensations to be
paid,” said Cook. “I only say this because we need to think very
clearly and very long and hard before we make this decision. It’s a
big burden to put on future generations if we make the wrong
Phil Gonet, President of the Illinois Coal Association also
addressed the board. Gonet’s comments were being made to support the
Viper Mine’s efforts.
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Gonet said that containment ponds are required for mining
operations to continue. Gonet said that in 1980 these ponds were
built as part of the current facility. “It is my understanding
that there was no objection to the present pond when the current
property was rezoned back in 1980,” said Gonet.
Gonet reiterated points made at ZBA hearings in October. Gonet
said that the coal mine has operated successfully without any leaks
or breaches in their ponds for thirty-two years. “Ongoing monitoring
prevents ground water contamination,” said Gonet. “Some of the
comments heard imply there is no monitoring or protection. There’s
nothing further from the truth.”
Gonet also said that there are no alternatives to be found, as an
impoundment cannot be built on ground that has been undermined. In
addition, Gonet said that 300 jobs would be lost if the mine closes,
not including outside contractors that may be hired as necessary.
Garret Barton, the engineering manager of the Viper Mine, said that
the mine feels the dialogue between the mine and the public has been
beneficial. “Not only in getting an informed vote, but also in
helping us open our lines of communication with the community,” said
“We believe the evidence of the mine’s real impact on the local
community, as well as the performance over the last thirty-two
years, shows we will continue to operate responsibly and contribute
to Logan County,” said Barton.
Barton also asked that the people trust the agencies that oversee
their operation to ensure safety for the public and environment.
“These are agencies with real expertise who understand the specific
requirements for protecting the public and the environment,” said
“We want to thank the board and the public for their commitment in
this process,” said Barton.
After the comments, David Hepler made a motion to amend the
requested rezoning. Since the October board meeting, the applicants
have altered their application to remove forty acres from the
request. These forty acres are not connected to the proposed site
for the disposal facility. The forty acres is close to a wildlife
habitat, and mine representatives stated at the October board
meeting that they would be willing to remove it from their
application. The board members voted unanimously to approve of the
The rezoning, which no longer includes said forty acres, was then
voted on by the board. A motion was made to approve the rezoning as
amended by Hepler and seconded by Pat O’Neill. The rezoning request
was approved by a vote of 10 – 1 - 1. Ten board members voted yes
with Scott Schaffenacher voting no, and Gene Rohlfs abstaining from
Board members present at the meeting were David Hepler, Chuck Ruben,
Gene Rohlfs, Robert Farmer, David Blankenship, Pat O’Neill, Andy
Anderson, Emily Davenport, Kevin Bateman, Jan Schumacher, Rick
Aylesworth and Scott Schaffenacher.