EJC Delegation to Rocky Branch Mine
EJC’s recent delegation to the coalfields of southern Illinois in April, 2015, included a visit to the Rocky Branch community and Rocky Branch Mine. The purpose of this delegation was to:
- Experience the devastation of coal mining on communities in southern Illinois and the magnificent landscape that is their home;
- Build relationships with residents and communities impacted by mining; and
- Mobilize delegates to work to help residents protect their homelands through a variety of strategies, including providing support for those who continue to struggle to stop new mines or the expansion of existing mines.
Description of Rocky Branch Mine
Rocky Branch mine is a new addition to the Cottage Grove Mine area, and is located five miles east of Harrisburg, Illinois on IL Route 13. Currently owned and operated by Peabody Arclar Mining Company, Rocky Branch was permitted in March of 2014 for a five-year strip mining operation covering over 1,000 acres.
When completed, the Rocky Branch Mine will have destroyed approximately 700 acres of prime or “high-capacity” farmland; nearly 8 miles of streams; and roughly 200 acres of forests that provide habitat for the federally- protected Indiana bat, wild turkeys, and other wildlife. Surface water from active mine areas, coal preparation and stockpile areas are eventually discharged into local drainage ways, per the approved plan.
Justice for Rocky Branch
Local residents have been vehemently opposed to the mine from it’s inception. They have cited concerns over the loss of their homes; the destruction of productive farmland; safety hazards from increased truck traffic and heavy mining equipment; impacts from road closures, which have cut off residents from one another and created adverse travel; and airborne dust and property damage from continuous blasting. Some portions of the mine and its operations are located within 300 feet of existing homes.
Early on, as Peabody was formulating its plans for the new mine, residents came together to form a group called Justice for Rocky Branch. These residents have repeatedly and formally voiced their opposition to the mine to county, state and federal decision makers.
In January of 2014 Peabody was cited by the Illinois DNR for clearing forest from the land prior to receiving its mining permit. In March, after receiving its permit from IDNR, but before receiving its final permit from the Illinois EPA, Peabody again began clearing forest from the land. Rocky Branch residents resorted to direct action to protect their Shawnee Hills community against illegal logging. Local residents blockaded the road leading to the Rocky Branch Mine by stretching yellow crime scene tape across the road and calling on state police to uphold the law. This delayed the land clearing but did not stop the mine.
Residents in the Rocky Branch area include families who have been on the land for generations, as well as others who came to the area to retire and enjoy the beauty and tranquility of the surrounding region. While many have sold and left the area, some have, so far, refused to leave.
Photos from the delegation provide a background of some of the impacts communities experience from coal mining in southern Illinois, and include photos of the Rocky Branch Mine.