IL: State park opened to coal mining

Posted on August 25, 2011

Pinckneyville, Ill. - The state's largest state park - some call it a jewel for hunters and anglers - will be opened to coal mining.

Gov. Pat Quinn earlier this month signed into law a bill to allow a southern Illinois-based mining company to lease a 160-acre strip of land in Pyramid State Recreation Area. The property will be used as a staging area for a 240-acre strip mine, officials with Knight Hawk Coal Co. said.

Knight Hawk is also permitted to mine for coal underneath the public area.

According to The Associated Press, mining could begin as early as next summer, depending on Knight Hawk's efforts to work out a leasing deal with DNR and the permitting process that allows the company to remove the coal from the property.

"It's been a pretty fluid conversation making sure all the parties are on board," Josh Carter, of Knight Hawk, said on Aug. 17. He called the project "a unique situation" and Quinn's signing off on it "just another step in that direction."

Environmentalists have said they're satisfied with reasonable safeguards in the measure protecting the park, but they worry that the move involving Pyramid could open the door to future sacrifices of state land.

"We want to make sure that this project ends up improving and not hurting state lands, and just as importantly, we want to really make clear this is not a precedent for future use of conservation lands," said Jack Darin of the Sierra Club's Illinois chapter. "Coal mines are devouring more and more Illinois land each year, and we don't want state parks to be the next coal mines.

Darin said the burden will now be on DNR to oversee the project and make sure it's done in the best possible way.

The bill's sponsors have insisted the project is about preserving jobs.

Under the plan, Knight Hawk would lease at fair market value a small portion of the park - a place that consistently has drawn 400,000 visitors annually in recent years - for a decade to get around a federal law requiring that coal not be mined within 300 feet of park land. As part of the venture near Pinckneyville, a 5,500-resident town about 70 miles southeast of St. Louis, most of the mining actually would take place off park land, in 240 acres of private land.

Part of the park also would be leased out for storage of the dirt that will be dug up and later "restored" to state DNR specifications, perhaps creating more wetlands to make use of the land that's been carved out.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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