Land Rezone for Coal Mine Fly Ash Disposal
The Viper Coal Mine, owned by Ark Coal and ICG Illinois, is
applying to rezone land approximately one mile southeast of Elkhart.
The land would be rezoned from Agriculture to M-3 Extraction in
order for a new fly ash disposal facility to be constructed. The
proposed construction would take place across the township road,
600th, from the current impoundment.
The Viper Mine opened in 1982. The mine itself currently operates in
Williamsville, just outside Logan County in Sangamon County. The
mine employs over 300 employees and ten contractors. The current
impoundment was built in 1983, and, according to the mine
representatives, is reaching the filling point.
Kayla Primm, who has worked at the mine for 32 years, gave a
presentation to everyone at the meeting on what they are looking to
build. Primm oversees environmental operations at the mine.
“We strive to be a good neighbor,” said Primm. “We have no
violations in respect to our current impoundment in over ten years,”
added Primm. Currently, the IDNR and the EPA both receive monthly
reports from the mine as they monitor thirty-one nearby water
sources, including the water supply for Elkhart.
“We have to meet Class One drinking water standards for ground
water,” said Primm.
Primm gave a brief explanation on what happens to fly ash as it is
disposed of. The ash is prevented from filling the air with the help
of industrial fans that push it into the impoundment. The ash is
then conditioned and mixed with fluids and other waste materials
until it becomes thicker and cannot blow around.
Primm also said the proposed construction would also include new
areas for topsoil stockpiles and two sediment ponds. The plans were
designed by a company called D’appolonia, who Primm referred to as
“a world leader in engineered impoundment structures.”
Primm said that currently, the mining company is working on getting
all of the various permits and plans approved that are needed for
such a project simultaneously. “We need to have the new impoundment
operational and ready to receive by 2017,” said Primm.
Primm said that underneath the proposed storage unit would be a
liner composed of heavy duty plastic materials that would prevent
any seepage that may occur. In addition, there would also a layer of
man-made clay under the liner. All of the ponds and ditches would
also be lined this way, and everything would be monitored
“The water won’t run off into road ditches,” said Primm. Primm also
said the process water used is recycled.
Primm said that with the construction of a new facility, the current
one would be reclaimed, meaning that the mine would oversee the
planting of grasses and shrubs over the top of everything after the
impoundment is compacted and drained.
In addition, the new facility would be reclaimed as it is being
used, rather than waiting until it is used up.
Primm reiterated that everything would be run according to the
regulations of several government organizations. “Everything in
mining is highly regulated,” said Primm.
Primm said that the hope is that the new facility would last for the
remainder of the life of the mine.
Bob Snow, who also works at the mine, said that the facility should
hold twenty years’ worth of production materials.
Commission member Fred Finchum said he knows the citizens who live
in Elkhart are worried about contaminants getting into their water
supply because of the operations. Primm said she is unaware if
anyone in Elkhart has experienced this, and reiterated that from the
mine’s perspective, there has not been any problems so far.
Chairman Bill Graff asked how long the water would be monitored
after the site is no longer needed. Snow said that they are required
to monitor water for five years after the mine is closed, and that
time can be extended if they are found deficient.
asked what would happen if the land is not rezoned. Erwin Sass, a
manager at the mine, said that they have not looked very much into
alternatives yet, although they have considered looking east instead
of north. “We own the land. We have been there since ’82 and we have
never had any problems with the south impoundment,” said Sass.
Sass said that the biggest concern for the company is the continued
employment of the workers at the mine. “The people here are the best
people I have ever worked with,” said Sass.
Graff asked if IDNR
has approved their plans yet. Snow replied that IDNR has not
approved the plans, but they are moving forward with their review.
Part of the review does include whether or not the county approves
Bret Aukamp asked about the potential surface water
drainage that would occur on the north end of the property. Snow
said any discharge from the pond would travel eastward and westward
alongside the county road, as well as underneath it. Snow said that
the ponds would be able to hold water from even a ten-year storm
until it can be recycled.
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Primm added that the water would also be pumped back into the
impoundment in order to help recycle the water and prevent the
ponds from filling up.
Aukamp asked if there was any expectation for additional
necessary access points for traffic. Snow said the only access
point that would be needed would be for construction purposes,
and not when the facility is in operation.
Sass said he appreciates the concern the community has shown by
coming forward with their questions. Sass also said he hopes to
see communication improve between the village and the company.
“That’s an oversight on my part. I have to take responsibility
for that,” said Sass.
Finchum said he thinks that the groups involved should have
talked to each other sooner.
Don Behle was present at the meeting to represent Elkhart.
Behle said from the Village’s perspective, there has never been
a problem with their water supply. “There hasn’t been a problem-
today,” said Behle.
Behle added that the village will be voting on a resolution to
oppose the construction. Their opposition concerns potential
environmental damage that might occur in the future.
Behle said one of the bigger concerns is that eventually the
heavy duty liner will break down and contaminants will leak into
the ground water.
Behle said another concern is the potential for water run-off,
which could contain toxins. “We don’t want that in our water
system,” said Behle. Behle said the fly ash could end up in
Salt Creek if there is too much run-off.
Behle added that the ground in question is currently farm
ground. “That’s what the ground is supposed to be used for.
“It’s not supposed to be used for coal and toxic materials. It’s
valuable as it is,” said Behle.
Behle also said that the coal mine itself does not actually
operate in Logan County. “We don’t get any benefit from it,”
Behle said the last concern the Village has is over aesthetics.
Behle said that future houses will have to look at “a
hundred-foot pile of dirt within a mile [of Elkhart hill]. Is
that going to be aesthetically pleasing?”
Primm responded, reiterating that the mine monitors for
thirty-one different compounds and potential toxins in the
ground water. While they test for so many constituents, Primm
said that there are currently no toxins present in the area that
would normally raise alarms anyway. Primm added that sixteen of
those compounds are routinely too low to even be detected, and
the mine looks for the same toxins in the fly ash.
Snow repeated that the water monitoring would continue for years
after reclamation begins. In addition, the reclamation would
consist of planting grasses and shallow root shrubs and plant
life. Snow explained that there is a movement in the industry
away from planting trees in such efforts, as the roots could
possibly penetrate the liner or fall over and leave exposed
holes in the land. In addition, the lining under the refuse is
highly resistant to the wear and tear of nature.
After the discussion was over, the Planning Commission members
voted unanimously to recommend that the land be rezoned.
The Zoning Board of Appeals is the next group to review the
application and render its opinion to the Logan County Board for
If the ZBA has completed its review and rendered a decision, the
matter could come before the Logan County Board for discussion
when it meets on October 16 for its workshop. At the County
Board's Regular session on Tuesday, October 20, the rezoning
could be voted. Both meetings take place in the Logan County
Courthouse at 7 p.m.
The ZBA opened public hearing on the matter on Thursday evening
in Elkhart. LDN will have a report on that hearing as soon as it
Commission members present were Chairman Bill Graff, Vice
Chairman Jim Fuhrer, Lincoln Mayor Keith Snyder, David Hepler,
Jeff Hoinacki, Emily Davenport, Fred Finchum, Blair Hoerbert,
and Jim Vipond. Logan County's highway engineer, Bret Aukamp,
and zoning officer, Will D’Andrea were also present.
Past related articles
County hears coal mine's request for
Viper mine planning $20 million expansion
County: Lincoln/Logan County Enterprise Zone
expansion request from mine