Community members raise deep concerns over Shay Mine disposal noncompliance

Community members raise deep concerns over Shay Mine

By: JORDAN GRUCZA

Enquirer Democrat Reporter

Concerned residents of Macoupin County attended a public hearing last Thursday regarding the reclamation of Refuse Disposal Areas, or RDAs and the storage of coal slurry in the Shay Mine No. 1, five miles south of Carlinville. Coal slurry is a byproduct of washed coal, which carries dangerous pollutants such as arsenic and heavy metals.

John Fisher from the office of legal counsel with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources was the hearing officer for the public hearing of Macoupin Energy LLC Shay Mine No. 1 mine applications for significant revision. Fisher stated that the purpose of this public hearing is so that interested persons have an opportunity to present views and comments regarding the pending application.

Jeff Steiner, Northern District Supervisor for the Land Reclamation Division for the IDNR Springfield office was present to provide a synopsis of the revisions to the mining application.

“In order to implement the IEPA-approved corrective action plan, the IDNR LRD permits must first be modified,” said Steiner. “In order to modify permits number 56 and 209, Macoupin Energy submitted a sigificant revision application pursuant to Illinois Administrative Code 1774.13. The application proposes to change the existing surface coal mining and reclamation operations as required by the consent order and IEPA. IDNR’s review of these proposed operational changes will include and relate to surface drainage control, long-term stability of the refuse disposal facilities and the achievement of post-mining reclamation standards in accordance with the department’s regulations.”

The first to state her concerns at the hearing was Joyce Blumenshine of the Illinois Sierra Club, an organization with 33,000 members.

“Our goals at the Sierra Club are to protect the environment for our families and for our future,” said Blumenshine. “This is very important to citizens to have these hearing processes and to have an opportunity to have a transcript made. A record for now and for future generations, who I hope at some point in time will look back at this and see that people did try to help out state environment, our planetary environment, and protect the future.

“The Illinois attorney general’s consent order states that extracted ground water will be sent to the mine’s currently permitted water management and treatment systems. That groundwater is not the subject of this permit, I do respect that, but I just want to ask, with the calculations that were done for these permit revisions for RDAs five and six, with all the extra water from that process, is there an additional calculation to figure out how that water with the extracted groundwater will impact the water management treatment systems? My concern is I saw many pages of calculations for these RDA revisions and the water they take off that, but not the additional extracted groundwater. If we have two huge additional quantities of water going to the same sedimentation ponds and drainage channels, what is going to be happening at the NPDES points?”

NPDES, or National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, is a permit program established in 1972 by the Clean Water Act  with the intent to address water pollution by regulating point sources that discharge pollutants to waters of the United States.

“If there are severe rains,” said Blumenshine, “will there be adequate time for the intended settlement process for all these particulates–and we know this water has heavy metals, arsenic and manganese–to receive the treatment that the permitted mine treatment plans are intended to do?

‘And I raise that question because I’ve been looking at the most recent entries in the Enforcement and Compliance History Online which is a federal EPA database, and from April of 2016 through the most recent quarter in April of 2019,  there are eight quarters within that time frame that have significant Category One noncompliance in red.

“Do you really think all this added coal ash refuse, increasing the height, putting in wick drains, all of these steps that I’m sure cost a lot and are well intended, are they actually going to achieve what is IDNR’s responsibility as we citizens understand it? Is this going to result in positive changes so that this mine is in compliance?”

Resident Robert Johnson had much to say about the way the IDNR has approached the filing of this application.

“In the application itself it says the application must attach an engineering certification,” said Johnson. “There is no engineering certification. In fact, according to IDNR, in response to a FOIA request, such a certification does not even exist. So I don’t see how this application can be seen as being administratively complete.

“Also in the application there is a table that is supposed to identify all the contiguous property owners,” he said. “In the application it is blank. Again, through a FOIA request, we got the table, but IDNR makes no attempt whatsoever to contact these people who live adjacent to the mine. I don’t see how an application that has a blank table in it can be seen as administratively complete.

“In the engineering design plan, it states that the dam will remain permanently, and the rules explicitly state such structures may not be retained permanently. The regulations are clear. They must be removed.

“If you’re not going to remove them, you must have a permit,” said Johnson. “There is no indication that this mining operation will continue under SMCRA permits. If it’s going to be there, there needs to be an operation plan under a SMCRA permit, and that needs to be renewed every five years. That’s the bottom line.

The SMCRA, or Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, is the federal law used to regulate active coal mines and reclaim abandoned mine lands.

“In response to some of these deficiencies that have been brought up before,” Johnson said, “The IDNR refers to some letter from 1995, and then goes on to say these matters have been litigated many times. This 1995 letter has never been brought out to the attention of the public at any time. There is never been litigation under any court. For them to respond to say ‘Well, we don’t follow the regulations anymore because we have this letter.’ You can’t supercede the intent and purpose of the SMCRA program with a letter. If you want to change the program you need to change the statute and the regulations, and none of that has been done.

“This report states that the post-mining land use for this area will be pasture land,” he said. “Pasture land? We’re talking about an area that’s 100 feet in the air. This will never be used as pasture land. It’s ridiculous. You have to follow the rules. Every time we come here you go ‘The rule says this, the rule says that,’ but every time we bring up a rule, they go, “Well, we interpret the regulation differently.’ I’m not interpreting anything. I’m citing, word for word, the regulations. The IDNR thinks this doesn’t matter. They can do whatever they want.

“They call it a reclamation plan,” said Johnson. “Reclamation is for the disturbed land surface. You cannot reclaim a mining operation. That’s ridiculous.”

Mary Ellen DeClue of Litchfield was next to speak.

“There have been very poor decisions by the state of Illinois that contributed to the ongoing environmental damage to this mine site,” said DeClue. “Exxon-Mobil, previous owners of the mine, was allowed by Illinois to walk away from its responsibility to clean up the Monterey Mine. The IDNR approved the application of Macoupin Energy LLC to dispose of it coal slurry into existing impoundments that were known to be contaminating water resources off of the mine site. The approval to add more pollution an already offending site is cheap and convenient to the mine operator but degrading to the health of the community and the environment.

“When West Virginia coal companies came to Illinois, the business plan included payment of money to campaigns, manipulation of local officials and the repetition of the benefits of coal mining to the community. For the benefit of the community, why isn’t there a coal severance tax and a sales tax on coal exported out of the state? Why aren’t communities compensated for their coal mining damage? Illinois coal communities do not share in the wealth of their resources.”

Carl Behme was the last to speak, bringing to the hearing his experience with coal byproducts in the past.

“In the early fifties I operated a D4 caterpillar,” Behme said, “In addition to that I took the township truck, and a lot of the roads were not paved at that time, and we hauled what was at the time called coal dock, which is the coal waste we’re talking about here. It wasn’t put into a containment area. We put it on the roads to improve the roads. For twenty years, not a blade of grass grew on the sides of the road. 

“In addition to that it ran down streams for miles,” Behme said. “It cleared all the vegetation. What we’re doing is affecting the future of this country. We’ve battled mine subsidence since ‘79, and subsidence can occur 10, 20 years down the road. Any containment that you put this stuff in is not permanent. It will be up to the people of the state of Illinois to pay for reclamation.

“Consider carefully your decision,” he said.

In his closing statements, Fisher stated that the written comment period will close Monday, July 29. All written correspondence either needs to be postmarked by that date or received via e-mail at dnr.mmlrd@illinois.gov by 11:59 p.m. on that date.

The comments received will be considered by the IDNR in rendering a decision regarding the pending application. The department will mail written notification of its final permit decision to each person who files comments or objections to the permit application.

The IDNR panel consisted of, left to right: Environmental Engineer Natalia Montaño, Hydrogeologist Vishnu Srinivasaraghavan, Land Reclamation Specialist Clifton Johnson, Attorney Amy Wolff Oakes, Northern District Supervisor Jeffrey Steiner and Manager of Engineering Darryl Kirk Smith. Enquirer-Democrat photo by Jordan Grucza.