The land would be developed for a new fly ash disposal facility.
The property is located one mile southeast of Elkhart, adjacent and
north of the current processing and impoundment. The meeting began
at 7:30 p.m. and lasted over two hours.
The Viper Mine opened in 1982. The mine currently operates in
Williamsville. It's underground mining in Sangamon County began
about 2009, though it was bringing coal up in Logan County before
that and could come back into Logan County in the not to distant
future as access to veins are opened.
The mine employs over 300 employees and 10 contractors. The current
impoundment was built in 1983, and, according to the mine
representatives, is reaching the filling point.
Currently, the mining company is working simultaneously on getting
all of the various permits and plans approved that are needed for
such a project. They need to have the new impoundment operational
and ready to receive by 2017.
Kayla Primm, who has worked at the mine for 32 years, gave a
presentation on what they are looking to build to everyone at the
meeting. Primm oversees environmental operations at the mine.
Primm reiterated several times over the course of the hearing that
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. “In fact, IDNR asked if they could bring some of their
regional directors to our mine to show them how ash is handled. They
were extremely impressed and could not say enough good things about
our operation,” 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 said the proposed construction would include new areas for
topsoil stockpiles and two sediment ponds. The plans were designed
by a company called D’Appolonia, an engineering company known
ZBA Chairman Doug Thompson asked about the capacity of the sediment
Bob Snow, who also represented the mine, said the ponds would be
built to withstand storms up to a potential 100-year storm. In the
event of greater rains, the water would run off into additional
storage drains. If the rain was heavy enough, the water could run
into nearby tributaries.
On the topic of storms and natural disasters, Snow said that the
facility would be held to the same high standards regarding
tornadoes or earthquakes and preparation for such events.
Paul Lee of the AIPG (or the American Institute of Professional
Geologists) repeatedly asked how the company plans on controlling
the quality of water that leaves the site. Snow reiterated that any
water stored in the ponds would be monitored, and that the worst
run-off in terms of quality occurs with smaller storms, not larger
“When you’re talking about larger run-off events, the sheer volume
[of water] tends to result in reducing the constituents,” said Snow.
“If we can retain the run-off from smaller events and recover that
water, then we can control the water coming off of the site.”
Primm added that the company routinely performs their own tests on
the water quality of their sites outside of the regulatory groups.
Primm said that any water in their facilities has to meet Class 1
drinking water standards.
“I have drank that water,” said Primm.
According to the representatives at the hearing, 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 be a layer of man-made clay under the
liner and a series of drains that would lead to the sediment ponds.
All of the ponds and ditches would also be lined this way, and
everything would be monitored constantly. Any water used would be
recycled and reused by the company.
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
Primm reiterated several times that everything would be run
according to the regulations of several government organizations at
both the state and federal levels. “Everything in mining is highly
regulated,” said Primm. Snow added that the mine follows an equally
strict series of regulations concerning air pollution and
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
Several citizens in attendance asked how
long monitoring will continue after the mine shuts down. 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. Primm said that there are financial bonds kept in place
for future repairs and maintenance after the mine might close.
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.
One citizen said she has made complaints
several times over the years concerning dust and ash in the air, and
nobody has addressed those complaints or tested her water. She also
asked how far the fly ash would travel if the holding area was
Primm answered, saying the company has compiled data on
such a potential event. The data also includes names and addresses
of who could be in the path. Primm said she would be glad to provide
information on those locations in the future, as she did not have
the paperwork on hand. When asked if the people on the list had been
informed previously, Primm said they had not.
[to top of second column]
Daniel Hamilton, an attorney with Brown, Hay & Stephens, LLP
of Springfield, asked if the company has looked at alternatives.
Primm answered, saying that this plan would be the most
preferred and efficient manner of storing the fly ash and
continuing mine operations. “If this plan is not approved, we
will explore other options,” said Primm.
Hamilton asked multiple times what the other options would be.
Primm said that no other options had been outlined completely.
Hamilton also asked several questions as to why the facility
needs to be built, what its capacity would be, and why this
location was chosen. “This raises too many questions,” said
Sass answered, saying the company already owns the land, and
that other locations would result in an increased effect on
highway traffic, and the current disposal unit will be
approaching full capacity in 2017.
Hamilton asked what would go into the facility.
Primm said ash would be mixed with clay, limestone, and shale.
“Up to twenty-five percent of it could be fly ash,” said Primm.
Primm said that some of the fly ash is returned by some of their
customers, as per their contracts.
Hamilton asked if she could list any sources, which Primm
declined due to confidentiality.
Before taking his seat, Hamilton said that the application
itself is deficient, and there is too much information left off
of the application. “You haven’t met the criteria yet. That’s
what we’re looking for tonight,” said Hamilton.
Primm asked the ZBA members what else they needed to know, and
the ZBA members present did not indicate anything either way.
“We want to see everything that has been said in writing, as per
the zoning regulations,” said Hamilton.
While they test for thirty-one potentially toxic 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.
If toxins are detected in the future, the mine will take steps
to correct any problems, but so far the mine has not found said
toxins to be present.
Multiple people asked about the potential loss of jobs if the
mine cannot open a new disposal area. One person (who did not
give a name) asked if Primm knew how many people from Elkhart
worked at the mine.
Primm said she was not sure how many people working at the mine
live in Elkhart specifically, but she does know that 49 people
living in Logan County work at the mine. Primm also said that if
the land is not rezoned and an alternative area cannot be found,
those people could potentially lose their jobs.
“We at Viper are proud of our long-standing partnership with the
community. We truly are,” said Primm.
Multiple people, including Rick Sheley of the ZBA, asked why the
fly ash is coming back to Logan County, especially when the coal
mine itself is located in Williamsville.
The representatives from the coal mine said that for some of
their customers, it makes more sense economically for the fly
ash to come to Logan County. In addition, some of the coal mined
does come from Logan County, even though it is brought out of
the ground in Sangamon County.
Primm said that the alternative for fly ash is for it to be
dumped in a landfill.
On the topic of from which county is the coal is mined, many of
the audience members said that Sangamon County is receiving
sales tax money for the coal that is mined, even though the fly
ash would be dumped in Logan County.
Primm responded, saying that due to government programs, many of
their customers do not have to pay sales tax, and any amount
that is paid is extremely low.
“It’s not anywhere near where it used to be,” said Primm.
Multiple employees of the mine also spoke up at the hearing.
“Arch Coal is by far the safest and most environmentally
friendly place anyone could work for,” said one employee and
Elkhart resident. Another audience member who has family working
at the mine said that nobody at the mine has ever called in sick
due to working around the fly ash.
Before the hearing ended, Peggy Lee, a member of the Elkhart
Village Council, thanked everyone for their participation in
this process. “This isn’t just an Elkhart problem, but a Logan
County problem,” said Lee. “We have to think about our
environment and what might happen to it.”
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.
“I know we can work together on this and come to terms on this
issue,” said Sass.
As the hearing drew to a close, the ZBA members announced that
there would be a second hearing on the 9th at the same time and
place. No decision has been made yet on the ZBA’s part on
whether or not to recommend the rezone. The County Board will
ultimately make the decision on the land’s designation.
Members of the ZBA present were Doug Thompson, chairman; Rick
Sheley, and Judy Graff. The other members of the ZBA decided to
abstain from this specific matter for personal reasons. Logan
County's zoning officer, Will D'Andrea, was also present.