Streams Feeding Canton Lake Saved
With the signing of a Circuit Court Consent Order on January 16, 2015 to terminate the North Canton Mine mining permit, two big victories were realized. First, the order to stop the strip coal mine in the watershed of Canton Lake protects the public drinking water supply for half the population of Fulton County from mine drainage pollution. Second, the victory set in motion a fundamental change in the way the Department of Natural Resources will evaluate permit applications going forward. No longer will the Department be able to ignore the regulatory definition of “intermittent” stream.
Sierra Club volunteers and others requested a public hearing on the mine permit in 2006. In 2008 the Sierra Club’s Heart of Illinois Group worked with local residents to form the Canton Area Citizens for Environmental Issues (CACEI). The groups teamed up with Prairie Rivers Network to fight this badly located and designed mine. Believing that the Department had not characterized the streams correctly in the permit, members of CACEI and the Heart of Illinois Group petitioned the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for an Administrative Review of the mine permit in 2008. The review hearings finally began at the end of May 2012 and took 12 days spread out from May to the end of August.
Based on expert testimony given by Dr. Cindy Skrukrud, Sierra Club Illinois Chapter, Clean Water Advocate and Chuck Norris, hydrogeologist with Geo-Hydro Inc, Denver, Colorado, in February 2013 the Hearing Officer removed one tributary and its 163-acre watershed from the mining plan. Legal work by attorney David Wentworth with the Peoria law firm Hasselberg Grebe Snodgrass Urban & Wentworth proved that the state permitting agency had made its own internal decision to use only one half of the state law on stream characterization. The case decision ruled that the petitioners proved beyond preponderance of the evidence that the application for the mine permit failed to list Stream 6 as an intermittent stream, thus failing to provide information as to the protection of the stream as required by mining law. The decision stated that baseline surface water information submitted by Capital Resources in its application was insufficient to meet the requirements of 62 IL Administrative Code 1780.21(b) [Final Order pp 26-27]. In June of 2013, Capital Resources submitted a revised application for the remaining 921 acres. The IDNR immediately approved the revision to the application as an insignificant revision, and simultaneously granted a 5-year permit renewal. \ Sierra Club and local citizens saw the revision to the application as very significant, rendering the original permit obsolete.
Required permits from the IEPA to allow discharges from the coal mine (NPDES permit) and destruction of the tributary streams by mining activities (401 certification) were neither approved nor denied as of the date of the court order ending the mining permit.
Sierra Club and local citizens filed for State Administrative Review of the IDNR permit renewal in the summer of 2013. Earlier that spring, Sierra Club and Brenda Dilts filed an appeal of the IDNR Hearing Officer’s February decision into Circuit Court in an effort to save the remaining tributaries. We argued that the revised plan in no way matched the December 6, 2011, mine operations plan that North Canton LLC presented at the IEPA hearing, which the mine contended would protect Canton Lake from discharges.
Not long before a scheduled three-hour hearing before the circuit court judge, Capital Resources communicated that they were going to stop all plans for mining and asked that the hearing be cancelled as ‘moot.” Attorney David Wentworth asked for a continuance of the court case until issues regarding the site and subsequent actions by the mine company could be placed into an agreed Consent Order. The order was finalized on January 16, 2015.
After 8 years, dedicated efforts, a lot of bake sales, candy sales, garage sales, and fund-raiser help from Illinois Chapter Sierra Groups as far away as the River Prairie Group in suburban Chicago, to donations from mine community members in other parts of the state, this strip mine has been stopped. The beautiful rolling Copperas Creek valleys, tall mature oak and hickory timber, and productive farmland along scenic tree-lined country lanes bordered by horse pastures and family farms will not be blasted and bull-dozed down fifty to over eighty feet deep for the one time taking of coal. Rubble will not be bulldozed back with a couple feet of top soil put on top to mask the long-term damages to the layers of sand, gravel, and the natural drainage nature built up over the eons to make this watershed.
The battle was long and hard and locals faced discrimination and numerous attempts to intimidate them, but they never gave up.