Voters decide on IL longwall future

ONE county in the midst of the Illinois Basin is letting its voting public decide on the future of longwall mining.

Donna Schmidt

Voters in Montgomery County, Illinois, located in the central part of the state, will vote on the question “Should the longwall method of mining be prohibited in Montgomery County?” when they take to the polls November 7, 2006, according to the Springfield State Journal Register.

The state’s attorney Chris Matoush claims the county’s decision to vote on the topic is non-binding because state law overrules. “The laws of Illinois say that longwall mining is legal [and] the county cannot supersede state law,” he told the paper.

One state official’s plans depends on the vote, however, as representative Gary Hannig has drafted House Bill 5770 to amend the state’s Coal Mining Act if the voters are in favour of a ban. The statement, according to the paper, reads: “Sec. 13.16 Longwall coal mining prohibited. No person may conduct or in any way engage in longwall coal mining in Montgomery County.”

Montgomery County Board member William Sielschott, said he would withdraw the proposed legislation if the county chose to vote for longwalling.

“Individual landowners can negotiate freely with the coal company, as is the present case,” he said.

The discussion has gathered steam since late 2005, when Colt purchased approximately 120,000 acres of coal rights from the county at a cost of $US6.2 million. Colt is a subsidiary of Cline Resources subsidiary Colt LLC and IEC (Montgomery).

Shortly after the sale, activist group Citizens Against Longwall Mining (CALM) filed a petition to the Federal Judge in Springfield, asking whether the wording in the coal deeds about subsidence was meant in the context that was known anywhere from 30 to 50 years ago when the ancestors of the current residents sold the coal rights. At that time, concerns were about small pockets of subsidence created by failures in the underground support of low extraction room and pillar mines and not subsidence from longwall mining.

If plans come to fruition, Colt will develop a 5 million tonne per annum operation that would include an IGCC power plant and synthetic natural gas plant, the paper said. It would initially employ 170-200 full-time workers with the potential for up to 600 if additional reserves are mined.

A mining permit had not been submitted in December 2005 at the time of the lawsuit and is still outstanding. Company president Jim Morris told the news outlet it would be completed in late 2006 or early 2007.