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Illinois EPA grants permit to Pond Creek Mine to dump polluted water into Big Muddy

Updated: Mar 5

The swollen banks of the Big Muddy River are seen May 17, 2019, in Zeigler. Dave Freeman is concerned about what the Pond Creek pipeline proposal could mean for his campsite.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has approved a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit for Williamson Energy LLC for its Pond Creek Mine No. 1.

On April 15, 2022, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (Illinois EPA, IEPA, or Agency) approved a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit for Williamson Energy, LLC Pond Creek Mine No. 1, documents show. 

Public notice for a draft NPDES permit was given July 12, 2019 and placed on the Illinois EPA public notice webpage.

IEPA required changes to the draft NPDES permit in its final decision.

Some of those changes include the following.

  • Installing and operating a 1-million gallon per day reverse osmosis unit by Dec. 31, 2023. Reverse Osmosis permeate (treated water) will discharge through outfalls 001 through 008. The RO reject will discharge through outfall 011 into the Big Muddy.

  • Some outfalls have been removed due to the status of Pond Creek.

  • Changes conditions for monitoring chloride, iron and sulfate in the water.

  • Includes mussel survey and a macroinvertebrate survey approximately one year after initial discharge of the RO reject.

  • Sets the limits for chemicals released into the water.

  • Sets the conditions for monitoring the Big Muddy River downstream from Outfall 011.

Andrew Rehn, water resources engineer with Prairie Rivers Network, said the NDPDES permit is improved from Williamson Energy’s original application.

“The permit was improved because of the huge turnout Dec. 18,” Rehn said.

A public hearing on the application was Dec. 18, 2019, at Rent One Park in Marion with approximately 185 people attending.

Rehn said that sort of public engagement improved the permit.

Illinois EPA held this hearing for the purpose of receiving comments on the draft permit prior to taking final action on the permit application.

Still, he calls the total permit a “mixed bag.”

The treated water will be discharged into Pond Creek. The rejected reverse osmosis water will go into a refuse disposal area to dilute the concentration of chemicals. The diluted water will be discharged directly into the Big Muddy. Rehn said it will have to “hit the equation” listed in the permit.

Prairie Rivers Network and the Sierra Club will monitor the situation.

“We’re going to have to watchdog and make sure we’re doing right,” Rehn said.

Murphysboro Mayor Will Stephens is disappointed but respects the process. The Big Muddy River runs through a part of Murphysboro.

“I still think it’s a bad idea and will continue to monitor the situation closely,” Stephens said.

Murphysboro residents Cameron Smith and Jan Thomas were disheartened to learn IEPA issued the permit that will disrupt the aquatic ecosystems and harm properties along the Big Muddy.

Although their property is not on the river, floodwaters flow onto their land several times a year, where they are creating a sanctuary for native plants and wildlife. They are concerned that added salinity will harm the plants and wildlife they are protecting.

A press release from the Sierra Club Illinois and Prairie Rivers Network said the permit will allow the coal mine, which is notorious for its inability to adhere to its permits, to discharge millions of gallons of mine water with very high levels of chlorides and sulfates per day through a 12.5-mile pipeline into the Big Muddy River. Along with local activists, they object to the permit and are considering an appeal.

Rehn said they are still reviewing the 79-page document and don’t have a full analysis yet.

Dave Freeman gives a tour of his beloved campsite property along the Big Muddy River May 17, 2019, in Zeigler. Read the Hearing Transcript:

Hearing transcript
Download PDF • 418KB


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