HARRISBURG – A Peabody coal company was cited Monday by the state for logging at a proposed mine location without a permit and ordered to stop.
The order came the same day Illinois mining officials learned of a new federal interpretation that now considers tree clearing as a pre-surface mining activity.
The interpretation was handed down after residents of the area and an environmental group complained to the U.S. Office of Surface Mining.
Peabody Arclar Mining LLC was cited by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for conducting surface mining activities without a permit, according to the violation notice.
“Immediately cease timber cutting and within 48 hours implement sediment controls on those areas impacted by the timber operations,” state officials wrote.
Peabody is seeking a five-year surface mining permit on 1,019 acres in Cottage Township, just east of Harrisburg. The proposed Rocky Branch Mine is south of Peabody’s Cottage Grove strip mine near Southeastern Illinois College and would be an extension of the existing operations.
The area is primarily farmland with scattered homes. Many in the area are upset with the plans that call for mining activity within 300 feet of some homes.
The violation, though it will now become part of the application review, is not expected to derail Peabody’s chances for a permit because it is taking corrective steps, a spokesman for the IDNR said.
“We support this interpretation change and took immediate action to stop the activity while the company’s surface mining application is pending,” the spokesman said in a written response.
The logging occurred within a 200-acre area of the proposed site. How much of the area was cut is unknown, but residents say logging equipment began moving into the woods in late December.
Terri Treacy, a representative of the Sierra Club’s Illinois chapter, said logging without a permit endangers property owners, the environment and wildlife. The application process is designed to ensure adequate protections.
“Those steps were not taken in this case,” Treacy said. She also provided a 2013 letter from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicating more study on the impact on endangered species was needed.
“Instead, Peabody began to cut the forest down,” she added.
The Sierra Club joined with residents in the complaint to the federal mining department.
Donald Karns is one of those residents and a member of Justice for Rocky Branch, a local grass-roots group. His home is within 500 feet of the proposed mine site.
“Our problem is we’ve got tornados and floods, but this is a man-made disaster,” he said. “We are trying to protect our homes and neighbors.”
A Peabody Energy spokesperson said the company is working with the IDNR. The spokesperson also pointed to the record of the existing mine near the proposed site.
“Cottage Grove has an excellent record of compliance and has earned multiple environmental honors for restoring lands to the same or better condition than before mining,” the spokesperson said in a written response.