Local Groups Push to Protect Clean Water in Southern Indiana

File comments on federal permit request that would allow a surface coal mine to destroy more than 15 miles of streams in Gibson County

SOMERVILLE, Indiana–(ENEWSPF)–November 12, 2013.  The Sierra Club and Hoosier Environmental Council (HEC) filed objections this week to Peabody Energy Corp.’s plans to destroy more than 15 miles of streams and more than 25 acres of open waters and wetlands at a Gibson County surface coal mine.

Peabody has asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to issue a Clean Water Act Section 404 permit, which would allow the company to dredge or fill more than 84,000 feet of streams, and more than 25 acres of open waters and wetlands in and around Gibson County in order to expand operations at the Somerville surface coal mine complex.

The Somerville coal mine is located in the headwaters of Big Creek and Smith Fork Creek, which flows into a tributary to the Ohio River. Surface mining bulldozes away earth and rock, and dredges local waterways to get to coal buried near the surface. Large surface mines such as this one can pollute local waterways by adding sulfates and other sediments that can destroy habitats for fish and other aquatic life, lead to acid draining into local streams and rivers, and contaminate nearby waters with toxic heavy metals.

“Destroying miles of creeks, wetlands and headwater streams will do irreversible harm to local waterways in Gibson County and threaten downstream environments,” said Sierra Club Hoosier Chapter Conservation Director Bowden Quinn. “Attempting to use man-made ditches to replace these vital resources cannot undo the damage Peabody’s coal mine would inflict on our streams and wetlands.”

“This proposal would destroy adjacent waters and increase pollution in downstream waterways and other resources,” said Kim Ferraro, Director of Agricultural and Water Policy at Hoosier Environmental Council. “The near total failure to provide any study of the existing groundwater resources at the site—including how those resources interact with surface streams—makes it all but impossible for the Army Corps to predict how recreated surface streams would function.”

In July, groups including the Sierra Club, HEC, and the Bloomington-based Conservation Law Center filed objections to a similar permit request for the proposed Vigo Sunna surface coal mine in Pike County, which would destroy more than 18 miles of streams near the Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge.

The comments submitted Monday by the Sierra Club and HEC to the Corps documented that Peabody:

·         Failed to measure groundwater conditions at the site.

·         Failed to provide any wildlife or biological information about the waterways that will be destroyed, such as aquatic bugs, frogs, snakes, fish and other wildlife found there;

·         Did not assess the current functions of the streams and wetlands, yet promised that those functions would be restored after the project is completed;

·         Failed to adequately describe how sedimentation, acidification and metals contamination — commonly found in mines of this type — will be prevented from harming Pigeon Creek and other downstream habitats;

·         Did not consider alternatives to large-scale surface mining that would be less damaging to the environment; and

·         Proposed a mitigation plan that is not based on current science regarding stream recreation and widely accepted practices that focus on assessing and restoring ecological function of waterways.

A copy of the comments can be found here.

Source: sierraclub.org