In a big win for Illinois citizens over corporate mining interests, more than 600 acres of predominantly Illinois River floodplain have been saved from becoming a coal strip mine. On July 19th, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) denied a surface mining permit for the proposed Banner coal mine, which was slated for land located next to the village of Banner in Fulton County. The permit would have allowed strip mining on a triangle-shaped site adjoining Rice Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area, Illinois Route 24, which is part of the Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway, and Copperas Creek and the Banner Marsh State Fish and Wildlife Areas.Both Banner Marsh and Rice Lake, internationally recognized as Globally Important Bird Areas, are home to nesting osprey, a historic bald eagle roost, the federally-threatened Decurrent False Aster and habitat for the state-endangered short-eared owl. The proposed mining would have also threatened residents’ drinking water supplies and the structural integrity of the village of Banner’s sewage treatment plant, located at the apex of the triangle.
In 2007, knowing that the proposed mine was not in the best interest of the residents or the environment, local citizens, including members of Citizens for the Preservation of Banner Township and Save Rice Lake Area Association, and the Sierra Club filed for an administrative review of the mining permit. The Illinois Attorney General and her Environmental Bureau agreed with the concerns and joined these groups in challenging the proposed mine.
“I have to thank IDNR for denying this coal mine,” said Ken Fuller, Mayor of the Village of Banner. “The real person to thank, though, is the Illinois Attorney General who filed in this case on behalf of the environment and the people of Illinois. Banner could have lost its wells and water if the coal mine had happened. I was really scared. My town could have died.”
Impacts on the hydrology of the area, including the bordering Rice Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area, were key issues in citizen concerns and in documents filed by the Illinois Attorney General. Citizens commissioned Geo-Hydro, Inc. to prepare a hydrogeology study of the mine’s impacts because attention to the hydrological impacts in the mine permit application was so lacking.
“It should not have had to take so many years to decide this permit appeal,” commented John Grigsby, a local resident and key petitioner in the appeal. “Thank heavens for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Her office comprehended what was at stake with this strip mine permit and took action on behalf of the future of our river floodplain and for the good of the regular citizens like me.”
The Sierra Club hopes that IDNR’s final denial of this permit heralds a new chapter in how our state sites new mines. We look forward to IDNR heeding concerns raised by ordinary citizens earlier in the review process—before permits are awarded. Our common goal, as illustrated by this permit denial, is to ensure our precious water resources, wildlife and its habitat, and communities are protected.