Homer residents concerned about proposed coal mine

Despite environmental concerns from residents, Sunrise Coal Company is moving ahead with its plans to build a bulldog coal mine in Homer, Ill.

The village of Homer, which is 20 miles east of Champaign-Urbana, is home to several farmers whose farms are up to seven generations old. The coal mine would extend for 20,000 acres under farmland, and coal would be extracted and washed in a surface facility.

Landowners’ water supply comes from shallow groundwater wells. In order for the coal mine to function, Sunrise Coal Company has asked for 350,000 to 550,000 gallons of water a day, approximately 10 times as much water used in the four rural communities of Homer, Fairmount, Broadlands and Allerton combined.

“We live in an area that doesn’t have large quantities of water,” Homer resident Suzanne Smith said. “The people who live in the area where the mine would be built have shallow groundwater wells that could potentially be contaminated by this water that leaches out of lagoons from the mine.”

Tyler Rotche, chair of the Beyond Coal Campaign at the University, said washing coal on-site means putting the water into a basin that will then be discharged.

“When it’s discharged, the chlorides are toxic to fish, sulfates are toxic to livestock, and, most importantly, the heavy metals can contaminate drinking water,” Rotche said.

According to the village of Homer’s website, the village would need an additional source of water to fulfill Sunrise Coal’s proposed water requirements.

Residents such as Smith worry about the Salt Fork River Preserve, which runs through Homer.

“The Salt Fork River is very near and dear to our hearts,” Smith said. “It’s a recreational opportunity for people in Champaign-Urbana, and it’s a beautiful place we want to protect.”

Smith, like several landowners who have rejected the coal company’s proposals for their mineral rights in Homer, is part of the organization Stand up to Coal, which has started a petition to stop the coal mine from moving into their town.

“Two and a half years ago, Sunrise began getting land leases from absentee landowners and tried to pay off people who lived there,” said Katie Mimnaugh, graduate student in NRES and member of Students for Environmental Concerns.

Brian Perbix, employee of Prairie Rivers Network in Champaign, said the landowners who actually lived in Homer were concerned for their health because of the pollution that comes with a coal mine.

“There’s certainly been a lot of opposition and concern coming from the people who live right around the area where the mine is being proposed,” Perbix said.

Perbix said Sunrise Coal has filed for their first permit with the Department of Natural Resources to move forward with the mine. However, he expects it will take months before they see the results.

Sunrise Coal did not return a call for comment Thursday.

_Claire can be reached at everett5@dailyillini.com._