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Local residents were surprised by the Homer Board's decision not to sell water to Sunrise Coal.
The board voted to reject a proposal to sell treated water and sewer services to Sunrise Coal for a proposed Bulldog coal mine at the Feb. 11 meeting.
The board voted 3-2 not to sell the services. The proposal needed four yes votes to pass.
Sue Smith, a resident of rural Homer, said she thought the vote could be a turning point for the state's relationship with coal.
"It is my hope that the efforts by local and regional citizens near Homer, along with other recent victories against coal mine developments in Illinois, Canton, Hillsboro, and the attorney general's case at the old Murdock mine in Newman, are a turning point in Illinois' relationship with coal," Smith said. "By working together to inform ourselves, followed by dialogues with local citizens and government representatives about the broader issue surrounding coal, we have been able to get past the short-term enticements to see the destructive, long-term impacts of coal mining and see our communities with renewed appreciation and value."
Smith said she was grateful for the work the Homer Village Board had put in over the past months as they reached their decision.
"I am deeply grateful to the Homer village board for all their time and effort over the past months ,as they listened to the issues, educated themselves, and did their best to thoroughly review the pros and cons before they cast their vote on a contract to sell potable water and sewer to Sunrise Coal," she said. "Their no vote is a step toward the community values we have and desire to protect including clean and plentiful water for our local residents, our community neighbors and for the Salt Fork River."
Smith said she hopes the union between farmers and other rural residents along with residents in Homer will continue to grow so that together they can meet the needs of the community.
Another area resident, Jonathan Ashbrook, said the vote was the first step in fighting the coal mine in the community.
“This vote is a key step in preventing Sunrise Coal from bringing an unwanted coal mine to our community," he said.
Homer resident Susan Forsyth said she was very surprised by the vote based on the straw poll that was taken in January where the majority of members were in favor of selling water.
"I was always hopeful that one board member would change their mind, and that's exactly what happened. I'm very grateful he did," Forsyth said.
Forsyth said she understands the vote likely means higher water bills for Homer, something Mayor David Lucas has alluded to in numerous meetings.
Forsyth is trying to look at the positive side of the situation.
"It also means that the trustees took a position that the risks outweighed the benefits of partnering with Sunrise," she said. "And that's wonderful, because coal is becoming like leaded gas, people are slowly realizing that you don't have to have an environmentally destructive dirty product power their lives."
Forsyth said alternatives to coal are becoming cheaper and more some places are moving away from using coal at all. Forsyth feels that is what people should strive for. Forsyth said she hopes the the country moves towards wind, solar, and passive methods and reliable smart energy grids to solve the energy dilemma America is faced with.
No matter what, Forsyth believes Homer will be find without the added money that would have been brought in by selling the water to Sunrise.
"Homer will be fine without Sunrise. Better off even,"
She said. "Whatever the alternative plan for water is, you can bet that opposition will be make itself heard."
The Prairie Rivers Network had been vocal in fighting against the mine coming to the area. They said the mine would be environmentally devastating for local rivers and farmland.
Traci Barkley of Prairie Rivers Network noted that Sunrise Coal may look elsewhere for water to take and use in its mining operation.
“Nevertheless, we can be sure that, wherever Sunrise might go, local residents will be ready to protect their resources and Prairie Rivers Network will be there to help," she said.
Stand Up to Coal, a group of farmers, landowners and villagers have opposed the coal mine since 2010.
Charles Goodall is a seventh generation farmer from Sidell and has been active with the group since its inception.
Goodall was pleased with the vote.
"The vote of these Trustees affects residents and landowners outside of Homer and into the future," Goodall said on behalf of Stand Up to Coal "The challenge, therefore, was to act beyond the immediate pressure and to exercise the duty of Trust to care for those wider interests."
Stand Up to Coal was concerned about the lack of transparency in the village's negotiations with Sunrise and the lack of public involvement in the discussions.
“Secrecy has long been a staple ingredient the coal mining industry employs to advance its goals” said Goodall.
In 2012, information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) revealed that Sunrise Communications Director, Suzanne Jaworowski had told Homer Mayor David Lucas, “It’s important that we do not discuss any aspect of the project in public before our permit is secure. I’m sure you understand the challenges it can bring up.”
Stand Up to Coal said the vote on Feb. 11 showed that the villagers of Homer and surrounding areas finally got their voices heard.
“Perhaps the events since 2010: information gathering, action by farmers to protect the land they love, the growing awareness by Homer residents that they must speak out to protect their village and quality of life, and finally the vote last night, constitute in a rough but adequate way, the definition of democracy.” said Goodall.
Goodall said Stand Up To Coal will continue its work to protect the land and water assets, safety and stability of the local communities, and the health of local citizens.
Goodall said he thinks as American moves away from the use of coal, some change will happen.
"We’ll collectively get smarter in two ways: the efficiency with which we use electricity will easily improve —lights that shut themselves off when not needed‚—for example," he said. "Second we’ve already begun to source energy from direct-gain solar. Huge gains are available from smart and simple building design – south facing windows, functional window overhangs, and optimal materials as we repair, upgrade and replace our houses as Edward Mazria describes in "It’s the Architecture, Stupid!" Also, residential photovoltaic systems are now available. Both cost the same or less than coal without the damage of coal.”