County Board Hears From Mine Representative

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Members of the Montgomery County Board heard an update on the subsidence from longwall mining underneath Illinois Route 185 during their regular meeting, held Tuesday evening, April 13, at the Historic Courthouse in downtown Hillsboro.

All members were present for the meeting, with Andy Ritchie participating by phone.

Near the start of the meeting, Montgomery County Board Chairman Evan Young introduced Chad Fuson, land manager for Coalfield Construction. Young said they allotted Fuson 30 minutes for an update. 

Following his presentation, board members would be allowed to ask questions and if any time remained, they would open questions to local residents.

Fuson told board members the mine is seven weeks into longwall mining the panel underneath Illinois Route 185 between Hillsboro and Coffeen. He estimates they have about 30 days left to finish the panel, and when they are done mining, the Illinois Department of Transportation will direct how the road will be fixed. 

Fuson added that the road is bonded, so even if the coal mine closed up its doors tomorrow (which is not the plan), there would be enough money to fix the damage that’s been done.

“We’re on the hook to fix the road,” Fuson told the board. “It’s cost us quite a bit of money to keep that road open.”

Board member Ron Deabenderfer asked when the next panel would be mined under the highway, and Fuson said not for another 14 months. Deabenderfer also asked if they had looked into waiting to fix the road until the panel was mined in 14 months. Fuson said they had considered that and would be following the guidance of IDOT.

Board member Patty Whitworth asked how long they would wait after they finished mining for the road to subside before it was fixed. Fuson said for roads, they wait about 60 days.

Young asked how far it had dropped, and Fuson said about seven feet. He said they mine between seven and eight feet deep under the road.  County Engineer Cody Greenwood asked if that would be consistent for the next three panels as well, and Fuson said the range for mining the remaining panels was six to ten feet, although there were very few places that would be mined ten feet deep.

Montgomery County Clerk and Recorder Sandy Leitheiser asked Fuson when the mine would be filing its annual map with the county, showing what would be mined in the coming year. Fuson said they are currently working on that.

The board then opened the floor to questions from local residents, including Bill Schroeder, Larry Schraut and Karyl Dressen. Schroeder asked how long in length of the road would be impacted, and Fuson said 3,000 feet. He asked about the next two panels as well, and Fuson said they are very similar.

Schroeder asked who would be paying for the road to be fixed, the mine or IDOT, and Fuson said the mine would pay for the construction, directed by IDOT. Fuson added they would use state-approved contractors and the work would be bid out.

Dressen asked if they would look at the flood plain, and Fuson said that at this time, they don’t anticipate having to raise the road, although they will if IDOT requires it. Schroeder asked if IDOT would be inspecting and supervising the project, and Fuson said they would be directing the entire thing and that the coal mine was footing the bill.

Schroeder also asked if they would put a subgrade on top or if they would mill the road down and start over, and Fuson said due to the damage, he anticipates milling it down. 

Young asked about residents who might have damage to their vehicles from driving the roadway, and Fuson said they should contact the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Board member Gene Miles asked about the repairs they are doing as the mine subsides, and Fuson said workers grind it down when they see it separate. They also add cold mix as needed.

Board member Doug Donaldson asked about how much mining remains, and Fuson said they have two full panels and a smaller 1,000-foot panel remaining. Board member David Loucks asked how long they expect the entire project to take, and Fuson said around five years.

Larry Schraut said that initially the mine planned to mine about one panel per year, but that’s slowed down some. Fuson said they aren’t running as many shifts currently.

Schraut, whose farmground will likely be mined underneath, asked about land repairs if the mine closes, since farmground isn’t bonded like a road would be. Fuson said the recourse for landowners would be the Illinois Subsidence Fund, which is paid into by all active coal mines in the state. Fuson said he went through that process in Macoupin County.

Dressen noted that they call longwall mining “planned subsidence,” and asked Fuson if things were going according to plan. He said they were, and had seen roads down south damaged more than Route 185.

Loucks asked Fuson about the percentage of their coal sold in the United States versus overseas, and he said he wasn’t sure. He said they do export coal and sell to the eastern seaboard.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Schroeder asked about the bankruptcy of Foresight Energy, which formerly owned the Hillsboro mine, and the debts they had to local businesses. He said the company owed the county more than $6,000 and owed Ameren more than $90,000. Schroeder asked if those debts had been paid, and Treasurer Nikki Lohman said she wasn’t sure. It’s been turned over to a lawyer hired through the county’s property and liability insurance carrier. Schroeder asked if there was a way to find out if they had been paid, and Finance Committee Chairman Megan Beeler said to follow the lawsuit through the court system.

Schroeder also asked the county about verifying the amount of tonnage the mine pays royalty to the county on. Lohman said the county asked and they do get a breakdown of how much is sold. Schroeder asked who is verifying that, and board member Jeremy Jones said they have a state inspector on site every day.

“That doesn’t make me feel any better,” Schroeder said.

Dressen also addressed the board in public comment, encouraging board members to drive along Route 185 to see the damage if they have not already done so. She cautioned them not to exceed the posted speed limit.

“This doesn’t just affect the drivers on the road,” Dressen said. “It affects homes, farms, buildings and livlihoods of local residents. Eventually the panel will be off the road, but the damage to ground will continue.”

Jones reminded the board that a similar road near Litchfield had significant damage from longwall mining several years ago.

“It’s fully fixed now. It’s like the Autobahn (in Germany),” Jones said. “Hopefully, we get the same outcome. They did a good job over there.”

Consent Agenda

After calling the meeting to order, Young asked board member Jim Havera to lead the Pledge of Allegiance.  Board members unanimously approved both the mileage and per diem requests, as well as the minutes from the previous meeting.

As part of the consent agenda, Montgomery County Health Department Administrator Hugh Satterlee gave a vaccine update. As of the Tuesday night meeting, the county had administered 13,575 doses of the COVID vaccine. Satterlee said that nearly 5,500 of county residents were fully vaccinated, which represented 19.08 percent of the county population. Of those, 66.81 percent of those fully vaccinated are age 65 and older. Even if residents have been vaccinated outside of Montgomery County, they are counted in the county numbers for vaccinations.

Satterlee said the state of Illinois reports 2,603 wasted doses of the vaccine, and Montgomery County only has six of those. They had one vial of  Pfizer vaccine that was wasted.

“There is still a need to get vaccinated,” Satterlee said. “As things start opening up and some things are returning to normal, people feel they don’t need to get vaccinated. That’s not true. Positive cases are going up again, and even though the death rate is not, people still need to be vaccinated.”

Satterlee said the state, along with most other states in the country, paused the use of the Johnson and Johnson one-dose vaccine this week due to a reaction in seven cases. The county has 175 doses of that vaccine that are currently on hold, but Satterlee expects that vaccine will be opened back up by the end of the week.

Board member Bill Bergen asked if everyone was returning for the second shot of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and Satterlee said they have a 96-97 percent return rate for the second shot. He said a few residents had a bad reaction to the first shot and opted not to have the second one, but that most return.

Loucks asked about the longevity of the vaccine, and Satterlee said that at this point, they know Moderna is still 90 percent effective against COVID after six months.

Liaison Reports

In her 708 Board report, board member Earlene Robinson said applications for funding will be available May 1, and they will be due back June 30. The group will not meet until July.

In CEFS news, board member Tim Fogle said the group is grateful to all those who volunteer with Meals on Wheels, and help is always needed. He said CEFS got a large federal grant due to COVID that has helped with expenses.

In 911 news, Bergen introduced 911 Coordinator Ed Boyd, who talked about a new response app that allows telecommunicators to reach out  to first responders more quickly. Once a 911 call is received in the system, the app brings in a run sheet, validates the address of the call, as well as the agency who will handle it. The app then sends an alert to cell phones, even before the responders are paged out. The alert includes a map for the call. The program went live on Tuesday. Boyd added that they continue to work with Motorola to iron out wrinkles with the new radio software as well.

Coordinating

In his report, Young said information systems is working on a date to set training for board members on their new Chromebooks.

Young said there isn’t an update for the 2020 census yet. Leitheiser said the release of the final numbers has been delayed until at least August, which makes it hard for lawmakers to finalize redistricing maps. At the state level, Leitheiser said the Democratic Party wants to use an annual census estimate for the redistricing process, while the Republicans want to wait for final numbers. Leitheiser said that at some point the courts will likely get involved.

At the county level, the board unanimously appointed a five-member ad-hoc committee for reapportionment. Members are Young, Beeler, Loucks, Leitheiser and Montgomery County State’s Attorney Andrew Affrunti. The committee will also consider the size of the county board as well as the number of districts and number of board members representing those districts. According to estimates, the county is likely to see a decrease of about 2,500 residents in the 2020 census.

The board unanimously approved a declaration of disaster in the county for another month due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Young said they are working with the University of Illinois Extension on finalizing a regional group. Each of the five counties has appointed two people to serve on it. Whitworth asked who Montgomery County selected, and Young said Tonya Flannery of Litchfield and Heather Hampton+Knodle of Fillmore.The group will look at financing and by-laws and Young hopes to have it in place by May 1.

The board unanimously approved termination of a contract for joint EMA services with Christian County. With the resignation of Chris-Mont EMA Director Greg Nimmo earlier this year, the two counties decided to resume their own services instead of a joint EMA.

Safety and Elections

In his report, Safety and Elections Committee Chairman Mark Hughes introduced EMA volunteer Dan Hough. He gave an update on EMA activities in Montgomery County, including local volunteers who helped to recover the body of a missing person in Pana, joining a team of 112 volunteers from 12 counties.

Hough added that Kevin Schott has been appointed as the interim EMA director, and that Schott is currently attending meetings in northern Illinois.

Hughes reported that ambulance contracts have been returned to the county, but they were not on the agenda, so the board will have to vote on them in May.

In elections news, Leitheiser thanked local residents who voted in the April election, She cited 24 percent voter turnout, which was starkly less than the 84 percent voter turnout in November. 

Leitheiser told the board there would be a lottery held to determine the mayor of Witt this week, as the election ended in a tie. Donaldson asked how the lottery is held. Leitheiser said they have tried quarter flips in the past, but that it’s hard to control where a quarter will land. Instead, they use plastic Easter eggs. One name is put inside each egg and an impartial party will pull out the egg. The name inside the egg will win the election, and the process will be documented. The lottery was held on Wednesday morning, and Shawn Cady was announced as the new mayor of Witt.

In EPA news, Coordinator Chris Daniels said they submitted the five-year delegation agreement, as well as a formal request letter for a tire clean-up this spring. She said they were fielding several complaints, and would be in the field a lot in the coming week.

In animal control news, Hughes said the facility was currently housing one cat and 14 dogs.

Hughes added the committee is working with the state’s attorney on updating the animal control contract. Affrunti said the county’s current ordinance has lots of issues, and one of the biggest ones is nothing in the ordinance allows the county to go after individuals to re-coup costs in animal cases. Affrunti said they were looking at ordinances from other counties to get started.

The county’s animal control ordinance will only be enforced in unincorporated areas, except for a few areas, like bite cases, vicious animals and animal cruelty. The county can enforce those items only anywhere in the county.

Affrunti added that municipalities need to pass their own animal control ordinances and then decide if they want the county to enforce the ordinance or if they want to do it themselves.

“Most municipalities want to contract with the county because they have the facilities,” Affrunti said. 

Deabenderfer asked what if a city wanted the services to be provided without a contract, and Affrunti said the county doesn’t have the jurisdiction to do that.

“We’re going to get it all taken care of and be one big happy family,” Hughes said.

Finance

Finance Committee Chairman Beeler introduced Josh Andres of the county’s auditing firm, Scheffel Boyle. He said the audit did not include the circuit clerk’s office or a single audit of the county’s WIC (Women, Infant and Children) program at the health department.

Andres also introduced Katelin Feldmann, a Litchfield native who now works for Scheffel Boyle, and helped to prepare the audit.

Andres offered the county a clean opinion, which is the highest opinion a government entity can receive on an audit.

He offered a snapshot picture of the county’s finances from the previous two years, citing that the county had to transfer $600,000 in coal royalty funds in the previous year to the general fund.

It was the first year Scheffel Boyle had completed the county’s audit, and Andres thanked office holders for their help in providing information.

After his presentation, Beeler made a few remarks. She said the state is once again proposing to take a cut of the county’s funds for licensing, fees and fines, and that the courts funding would likely change in the near future in light of the state’s new criminal reform bill.

Beeler said that some of the offices end their year with additional funds leftover, and the county is grateful. However, she found multiple places where salaries were over budget. She said that’s sometimes due to union contracts. Jones asked if they could identify which offices had control of the salary, and Beeler said all offices have some control. Jones asked how they will rectify it, and Beeler said on a committee by committee basis. Several office holders in attendance asked for copies of the county audit.

In supervisor of assessors news, Beeler said they were working on the final 2020 assessments. She added that GIS Coordinator Kevin Brink was keeping busy with data maintenance and inventory.

In capital improvement fund news, Beeler said they had six CDs rollover, but interest rates were very low.

Beeler said they discussed offering a property tax penalty waiver again this year due to the ongoing pandemic. However, not very many people took advantage of it last year, and many paid the penalty anyway, which resulted in a refund being offered by the treasurer’s office. Many of those checks have not been cashed, which creates accounting problems, and Beeler said they opted not to offer it this year.

In IMRF news, Beeler said they got a good report they are seeing a decrease in two of the three funds, which will help.

Beeler said the personnel committee was working on the vacancy for the EMA position, and the finance committee would be discussing what the county could afford. In his report, Bergen said they were working on a job description with help from Joe Gasparich. He added they were trying to decide if the position would be part-time, full-time or three-quarters time.

Beeler said they are looking into maintenance fees with the ETSB (911) Board for the new Motorola equipment. The 911 board will pay for the upgrades, but by statute, 911 funds are only allowed to cover certain things. Beeler said they are checking into if the maintenance fees have been paid and who will pay them.

In an update to the budget control policies, Beeler said Deabenderfer was a great help in providing notes, and she would bring a clean copy to next month’s board meeting.

Beeler reminded the board that budget hearings have been set for Aug. 12 and Aug. 13. Worksheets to department heads would go out in June, due back in July.

The board unanimously approved going out to bid for electrical service rates, and the county has a right to deny all bids. They are looking diligently for an all-inclusive plan.

Buildings and Grounds

In his report, Building and Grounds Committee Chairman Bob Sneed said there were few maintenance and cleaning issues. He added they may have to do some tuck pointing at the Annex building due to a leak.

Sneed said they are still working on the surplus sale, and thanked Greenwood for letting them store items at the new highway department.

Sneed added they are still checking on the health department and highway department buildings for IPMG insurance coverage.

The board unanimously approved an energy audit from Centrica, which was formerly Smart Watt. As part of the project, the company guaranteed $27,000 a year in savings, and the county saw over $30,000 this past year. Sneed said the county has to pay for the energy audit if they wish to continue, and it costs around $3,400 annually. Since last year was an unusual year due to the pandemic, and the buildings were used less, the committee voted to do the audit another year and make sure the county was seeing the guaranteed savings.

Affrunti said everyone in the courthouse has had both doses of the vaccine, and he feels judges will push to open the courthouse again by May 1.

In a final note, Sneed said that Sheriff Rick Robbins noticed a large population of dandelions on county ground, and the committee approved having them sprayed.

Development

Development Committee Chairman Donna Yeske reported that Dr. Ryan Follis, facilitator of the Montgomery County CEO (Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities) program has taken another job, and the program will be looking for another leader for this fall.

Yeske said both of the Revolving Loan Fund businesses are paying.

The board unanimously approved two tourism grants, one to the Old Settlers Car Show for $800 and one to the Raymond Independence Day celebration for $1,000. One application was turned down, as it did not meet the grant criteria. Whitworth asked the board to change the application form to reflect that.

Treasurer Lohman said some of the relief package money the county received was earmarked for tourism, and could be used to fund the grants if they offered another round.

Yeske thanked everyone who attended the county’s Bicentennial celebration on April 10, and Whitworth thanked all those who helped set up. Yeske also mentioned the PBS program that came to film a segment on the 150th anniversary of the Historic Courthouse.

The board unanimously approved a resolution to support local control of wind and solar ordinances. Yeske said there is legislation currently at the state level to allow the state to take control of such ordinances. She said a wind company has inquired about the possibility of a wind farm in part of the county, and they were impressed with the county’s current wind ordinance, which was written by the Planning Commission.

Personnel

Personnel Committee Chairman Bill Bergen said they got a report on the employee health insurance. The company reported a loss of $150,000, due to a couple of unusually large claims. Agents told the county not to panic, as it will likely even out. Bergen said the county’s HRA usage is at 2 percent, and they have paid 12 COVID-related claims for $17,249.

Bergen added that his committee continues to work on the personnel manual.

Road and Bridge

In his road and bridge report, Chairman Gene Miles said flooring and furniture have been installed at the new highway department (on the old Wright Automotive property). He hopes to have the next committee meeting there.

The board unanimously approved allowing Infrasource Construction, LLC, to rent part of the parking lot space for a project. It’s a month-to-month lease, and they estimate they will need about six months.

Board members unanimously approved Litchfield Bituminous and Louis Marsch as the low bidders for township oil letting and Louis Marsch as the low bidder for the county’s oil letting.

They also unanimously approved the low bidder for culvert letting.

Miles said he and Greenwood met with the Nokomis City Council about an extension of the Nokomis Road. The county would like to fix the road and then turn maintenance over to the city, but Miles said the city is not in favor of that. The committee will decide what to do next.

In a final note, Greenwood said he was contacted by IDOT about a project in Fayette County at Hurricane Creek. They will be rerouting traffic on Mulberry Grove Road, which has one-quarter mile in Montgomery County. IDOT will fix any damages due to increased traffic on the road.

Appointments

In addition to appointing the ad-hoc committee for reapportionment, the board made several unanimous appointments before the end of the meeting.

They appointment Donald Sturgeon to the Shoal Creek Fire Protection District for a three-year term. They appointed Daniel Tester to the Mutual Drainage District No. 1 of Irving, Witt, Nokomis and Rountree for a two-year term.

They appointed Robert Warnock, Ron Lawler and Dale Nobbe to the Green Hill Cemetery Association for six-year terms.

In Planning Commission appointments, they appointed Glenn Cherry for a three-year term, Bill Schroeder for a one-year term, CJ Liddell and Joe Goeke and Brian Niemann for two-year terms.

They also appointed William Beeler to the Raymond Community Fire Protection District board of trustees to a three-year term. Beeler abstained from the vote.

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