Friday, October 03, 2014
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Elkhart property would be utilized for new fly ash impoundment
Regional Planning Commission recommends rezoning request

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[October 03, 2014]  LINCOLN - Nearly a dozen guests were present at a meeting of the Logan County Regional Planning Commission Wednesday night. The guests, several of which were employees of the Viper Coal Mine that operates between Elkhart and Williamsville, were part of a discussion on whether or not to rezone land for a new fly ash disposal unit owned by the mining company.

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 constantly.

“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.

Keith Snyder 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 the rezoning.

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,” said Behle.

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 decision.

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 is available.

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.

[Derek Hurley]

Past related articles

11/15/2008 - County hears coal mine's request for enterprise zone
Viper mine planning $20 million expansion

11/28/2008 - County: Lincoln/Logan County Enterprise Zone expansion request from mine

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