News Local/State

Illinois Coal Mine Violates Water Pollution Permit +600 Times


The Illinois Pollution Control Board found that the coal mine near Industry violated its water pollution permit more than 600 times.

Years ago, Kim Sedgwick and her fiancé decided to build a home not far from the mine, what she called “their dream-house” along Grindstone Creek.

Around that time they canoed up the Grindstone, and found a heron rookery. They were so afraid it would be disturbed that they did not tell anyone about it.

Then, in 2002, they became alarmed when they heard the mine was expanding toward that section of the creek. They wanted to save the birds, the forest and Grindstone’s whole “unusual ecosystem,” as they called it.

So they wrote a letter.

“The one letter was basically an ad in the paper saying that if anybody has concerns you can request a public hearing and so that’s what we did and from there it led to dozens of meetings and hearings and talking to professors and biologists and ornithologists,” Sedgwick said.

It is into Grindstone Creek that the Springfield Coal Company, and its predecessor Freeman United, poured runoff from the mine.

The mine was licensed to do that, but it had to keep pollutants in the creek under certain levels, and when it failed to do that, the Illinois Pollution Control Board cited it for the 640 violations through what is known as a "violation notice" sent to the company. 

The state is willing to establish an agreement with  companies to fix such problems, but if they are still not corrected then the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency refers the case the Attorney General’s office.

But in the Industry case, the attorney general did not initially take action. That is when the Environmental Law and Policy Center stepped in to help.

ELPC attorney Jessica Dexter filed a 60 day notice of intent to bring a citizen suit against the mine for failing to comply with its permit. That prompted the attorney general's office to launch a suit.

In a written statement, the attorney general’s office said it did receive a referral from the IEPA, but by that time it was already filing the suit because of the ELPC and other environmental groups.

Dexter said she combed through the records the mine sent to the IEPA. Dexter looked at 80 months of data and found violations in 79 of them, adding up to a total of 640 violations. Documents obtained  from the IEPA showed the state agency found a total of 47 violations at the mine during that time frame.

On at least two occasions, the IEPA sent letters to the companies saying the agency felt that all of the problems were fixed.

"There are a lot of outside actors that are passionate about the environment and we love the advocates, but at some point we just have to focus on our process and figure out what’s best under the law,” said IEPA spokesman Andrew Mason.

Kim Sedgwick said the herons still seem to be thriving and that she is pushing the Illinois Pollution Control Board to compel the Springfield Coal to donate the land the rookery sits on to a land-preservation.