Testimony to start on Banner mine site

June 22, 2008 at 09:32 AM

BANNER — Hearings about a mining permit that sparked a dispute between the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office begin Monday in Springfield.

The request also has pitted some Banner residents and environmentalists from throughout central Illinois against Chicago-based Capital Resources Development Co.

Controversy over mining at the 643-acre site outside Banner started brewing when some residents objected to the permit application made in 2004 by Capital Resources. Banner Village President Ken Fuller said he feared blasting operations would be disruptive, no jobs from the project would go to local workers and the environment would be harmed.

Greg Arnett, a Canton engineer for Capital Resources, has said he wants to bring jobs to the area, and all mining operations will be done responsibly.

One of the mine’s most vocal opponents has been the Sierra Club Heart of Illinois Group.

“There could hardly be a worse place for a strip mine,” said club member Joyce Blumenshine.

The site is between Banner Marsh State Fish and Wildlife Area and Rice Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area and near U.S. Route 24. It is close to a federally designated Scenic Byway and an area of globally important migrating bird habitat, and opponents argue the mine would endanger species including eagles and ospreys.

Fuller also worries about the village’s water supply. Opponents of the mine believe it would affect the water flow to Rice Lake and the water table level.

Hydrogeologist Charles Norris of Denver is among experts expected to testify at the hearings. Hired by mine opponents, he wrote a study titled “Surface and Subsurface Hydrology of Banner Basin.” He said the project will drain water from Banner Marsh into the new mine, and reclamation of the site can’t guarantee there won’t be a permanent loss of water from Banner Marsh.

Arnett disputed many of the claims made by opponents, saying the coal mining industry has changed dramatically over the past few decades.

“The days of uncovering coal without regard to any consequences are gone forever,” he said. “They have been replaced with permitting processes that focus on protection of our environment, restoration of land productivity, and even enhancing the project area where possible. Our mining application showed we can and will accomplish these goals. The IDNR agreed when they issued our mining permit.”

Madigan’s office became involved in December 2007 after being contacted by the mine opponents. Madigan accused the IDNR of making “flawed findings” on threatened and endangered species, land uses and hydrologic assessments.

Illinois Attorney General’s Office environmental bureau chief Tom Davis, who was born in Canton and graduated from Cuba High School, is handling the attorney general’s side of the case.

“There’s plenty of coal elsewhere,” Davis said. “This is a very small site and it’s simply located in the wrong area for strip mining.”

In a statement Thursday, IDNR spokeswoman Marcelyn Love said: “The Office of Mines and Minerals conducted a lengthy and thorough review before issuing a permit to Capital Resources Group to construct a mine in Banner. The review included an assessment of any negative environmental impacts of the mine and concluded that the permit was merited. We certainly respect the rights of the attorney general’s office and the citizens of that community in voicing their opinion on this matter, and we look forward to the administrative hearing to put some closure to the situation.”

Banner residents and others will testify. The attorney presiding in the case will decide later whether the permit should have been granted.

Arnett said he is continuing with plans to mine the site.

“The decision of the (IDNR) is final as far as we’re concerned,” he said. “We have a mining permit, and once we get permits from the Corps of Engineers and the EPA, we’ll proceed with mining.”