Noise from strip mine could harm wildlife, professor testifies

Adriana Colindres

A proposed strip-mining operation near Banner, Ill., could be noisy enough to have a “severe negative impact” on nearby eagles and ospreys, driving them away from their nests, an Illinois Wesleyan University professor said Tuesday.

Given Harper, a bird expert and chairman of IWU’s biology department, testified during the second day of an administrative hearing in Springfield.

The hearing is meant to settle the controversy over whether to rescind a permit the Illinois Department of Natural Resources granted to Capital Resources Development Co. for its planned strip mine in Fulton County. The company has said 1.6 million tons of coal could be mined at the 643-acre site over 10 years.

The petitioners who sought the hearing, including some Banner-area environmentalists and Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office, must show by a “preponderance of evidence” that the DNR decision to grant the permit was a mistake. Attorneys for DNR and Capital Resources Development say the decision was a sound one.

If strip mining is allowed at the site, Harper told hearing officer Michael O’Hara, there is a “strong probability” bald eagles would alter their nesting habits, reproduce less frequently and feed their eaglets less food. The birds would be subjected to noise from heavy machinery and blasting, he said, comparing the sound of blasting to military “ordnance explosions.”

Ospreys would suffer because mining activities would disrupt their habitat, too, he said. Bald eagles are classified as a “threatened species” in Illinois, while ospreys are an “endangered species.”

Mining likely would release heavy metals and other toxic compounds, potentially harming the birds and other wildlife, Harper said.

But in cross-examining Harper, an attorney for the IDNR elicited testimony that eagles can get accustomed to loud noises and human activity. Attorney Virginia Yang noted that a gravel business operates at Duck Island near the proposed strip-mining site.

Yang also asked Harper whether eagles’ nesting activities in Illinois have increased during the past decade. Yes, Harper answered.

She then asked if eagles still need the same level of protection as in the past. “Yes,” Harper said. “They are still classified as a state threatened species.”

Attorney Christine Zeman, who represents Capital Resources, also cross-examined Harper. In response to her questions, he said he had not reviewed Capital Resources’ entire permit application and that his comparison of blasting noise to military ordnance had nothing to do with his background as a biologist.

The hearing is to resume at 9 a.m. July 23 in IDNR headquarters. It will continue the next day, if needed. O’Hara is expected to decide whether to rescind the permit.

Tensions flared again briefly Tuesday between O’Hara and Tom Davis, chief of the environmental bureau in the attorney general’s office. At the end of Monday’s hearing, the two engaged in a verbal spat, with each man scolding the other for interrupting while he spoke.

Tuesday’s exchange took place after Davis laughed when one of the opposing attorneys raised an objection. That prompted O’Hara to tell him: “Mr. Davis, don’t do this. This is a formal hearing. I don’t want to get into it with you.”

Adriana Colindres can be reached at (217) 782-6292 or