Dig into Banner mine issues

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

For about five years, a group of Fulton County residents has been fighting a proposal to mine coal on 640 acres of land near Banner. They've drawn several allies to their cause, including The Nature Conservancy and Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn. Now Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has thrown her hat into the ring. Her involvement is a welcome development.

On Nov. 15 the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) cleared an important permit for the mining interest, Capital Resources Development. In a recently filed petition Madigan challenges that decision, listing seven allegations of error. These include:

DNR didn't give proper consideration to residents' petitions, which sought to declare the land unsuitable for mining.

Indeed, this site is problematic for several reasons: It would sit between Rice Lake and Banner Marsh, two protected conservation areas; it would be just off U.S. Route 24, a designated scenic byway; it would come awfully close to Banner's sewer plant and drinking wells; and it would be adjacent to the Illinois River.

Tom Davis, the attorney general's environmental bureau chief in Springfield, said residents deserved due process in airing their concerns.


Modifications that Capital Resources made to its permit application, at the DNR's behest, were never demonstrated to be complete and accurate.

'Some of the issues were kind of glossed over,' Davis said. For instance, he said, DNR noted that there were no water quality samples available from Rice Lake, but it did not ask the mining concern to take them. Instead it relied on decades-old samples taken from the Illinois River.


DNR's hydrological assessment was flawed.

As noted, this is a sensitive location. The attorney general's petition asserts that the mining operation poses a pollution risk to the river. In particular, it raises concerns about groundwater flowing into the mining pit. Using the company's figures, the AG's office estimates that as much as 750,000 gallons of surface water a day could flow in, which could overwhelm planned sedimentation and filtration ponds.

Also, the petition questions the mine's impact on Banner's wells. If they are compromised it will be a major quality of life and public health issue.

DNR failed to properly consider wetlands on the 640-acre site.

According to the Army Corps of Engineers, the site contains just over 300 acres of wetlands. But Madigan said the permit papers show zero wetlands. That's a discrepancy worth addressing.

In fact the Corps may do just that, by way of an Environmental Impact Statement on the site — a serious, two-year undertaking not usually performed for mines.

'A lot of work goes into an Environmental Impact Statement to make sure the proposal is not detrimental to the environment or the public,' said spokesman Ron Fournier of the Corps' Rock Island District.

Similarly, it's rare for the attorney general office to get involved in such a case. While Madigan's overriding concern centers on whether DNR followed its statutory requirements in issuing the permit, Davis said it's the first mining challenge he can recall in his two decades at the office.

Both DNR and Capital Resources will have an opportunity to address the petition in front of a hearing officer. (A pre-hearing conference has been set for March 18, according to a Madigan spokeswoman.) Given the sensitivity of the land in question, we feel more scrutiny is warranted.

Meanwhile, we appreciate that this regulatory process is a lot for the mining company to deal with. Opposition to the Banner mine does not equal opposition to coal mining, of which Fulton County has a proud history. Coal lies under 37,000 square miles of Illinois' surface. Defending the one square mile in question at Banner to protect the interests of nearby residents and the environment is a worthy fight.