Rocky Branch Horror Story

(Apologies to Rocky Horror Picture Show)
Brad and Janet found themselves lost, once again, with a flat tire on a cold and rainy late evening. Seeking a telephone, the couple walked to a nearby castle where they discovered a group of menacing and eccentric people holding a Peabody Energy corporate meeting. They were soon swept into the world of Dr. Franken Coal Stripper, the mastermind behind the self-proclaimed “largest private-sector coal company in the world.” Brad and Janet were astounded at hearing about the forbidding plans for Peabody Energy’s next monster, Rocky Branch Mine, and the victims that call the area home.

They learned the ghoulish mine proposal consists of disgorging the surface of 1095 acres of earth to reach the coal below, including a 200-acre forested hill where the life-giving headwaters for all the streams in the valley begin. The mine would discharge dredge or fill material into the creeks and waterways of a majority of the 1094.5-acre site and fill 19,830 linear feet of ephemeral streams, 16,520 linear feet of intermittent streams, 3198 linear feet of perennial streams, several acres of wetlands, and 6.71 acres of open waters in Saline County, Illinois.

 Perhaps even more bizarre was Dr. Franken Stripper’s claim that when they were through blasting, digging and moving soil, rock and coal around with giant earthmoving equipment they would be able to reconstruct the streams “just like they were before, or better!” Scared out of their wits by the ghastly Frankenstein tales of creation, Brad and Janet fled the scene of in search of another telephone.

 They came upon an old farmhouse where they discovered a group of disheartened, yet outraged landowners. For the past 4 years their world had been shaken (literally) by Peabody’s Wildcat Hills Cottage Grove Mine just a half mile to the north. Now, Peabody was planning to extend it tentacles across the road where it wanted to start the Rocky Branch mine, impacting the lives of dozens of people. Some of the people had recently bought land in hopes of enjoying a peaceful retirement, while others had been born on the land and hoped to leave it for yet another generation. Some of the neighbors sold out very quickly after falling prey to Peabody’s scare tactics. Others were hanging on in hopes they could triumph over the wealthy and powerful coal company.

 Peabody’s landmen, exasperated with those who refused to submit to their will, began their heavy-handed tactics commonly used to scare people into giving up the place they call home. Tactics such as telling landowners, “If you don’t sell out now you’ll regret it later.” “The blasting will crack your 22,000 gallon water cistern leaving you with no drinking water.” “We’re going to close the road out to the highway, and we don’t care if it’s the only way out when the valley floods.”

 Peabody henchmen even resorted to bribery. They offered the township a whopping $15,000 a year for 5 years in exchange for a road closure. Wow! $75,000! That represents a mere TWO DAYS of pay for Peabody Energy’s Chief Executive Gregory Boyce in 2012![1]

 How will this chilling tale of the grisly Rocky Branch mine monster blasting its way into the lives and land of this sleepy southern Illinois community end? Will Peabody yet again crush the oppressed, destroy the land and pollute the water, or will justice prevail and this permit be denied?



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