Plans outlined for new Littleton coal mine in Illinois

Equipment from the existing North Grindstone mine will eventually be transferred to the new Littleton strip mine in Schuyler County, said Greg Arnett of Black Nugget LLC, a company that is working on the Illinois mining project.

Arnett spoke May 15 at an informal conference of the Illinois Office of Mines and Minerals, which is processing a mine permit application for the Littleton project. The transcript of that meeting was recently posted to the agency’s website. Arnett said that Black Nugget LLC mainly focuses on providing labor, equipment and supplies to extract coal using surface mining techniques. The actual mine permit applicant is Grindstone Management LLC.

Arnett said his company currently performs this kind of work at the North Grindstone mine, which is located just outside of Industry, Ill. “I also do consulting work to develop the surface coal mining operations, and I did a little bit of work on this particular project,” he added.

The North Grindstone strip mine in McDonough County is listed with the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration under Black Nugget LLC, with MSHA showing production of 48,462 tons in the first quarter of this year and 165,782 tons in all of 2011.

“I have 28 men and two women working for me right now,” Arnett added. “They’re all from the area and hopefully when we finish up the North Grindstone mine they’re going to be coming down, but like I say this is still in flux, we’re still negotiating some of these things so that’s kind of where I’m at on that part of it.”

Arnett said that Littleton is a four-year operation and the equipment used at the North Grindstone mine will be transferred there. “That consists of a mass excavator which is a 13-and-a-half yard machine,” he added. “It’s hundred ton end dump trucks for handling the unconsolidated overburden and they’ll also handle some of the shales that overlie the coal, and [there will also] be two D11 bulldozers that are used for pushing the shale across the pit. There’ll be a drill for shooting that overburden.”

The raw coal from the Littleton mine will be shipped in over-the-road trucks to the Industry mine processing facility. The coal is going to be washed there and it’s going to be shipped using the existing road systems again using over-the-road trucks, Arnett said. “There’s no rail facilities anywhere around here,” he added.

Environmental group critics slam company management

Traci Barkley of the Prairie Rivers Network, a coal industry critic who often shows up at mine permit meetings like this, claimed that this permit shouldn’t be issued because the management of Grindstone Management is involved with another coal producer. Barkley pointed out the ownership and control section of the Littleton permit application.

“This is the part of the application where information about the ownership and control of Grindstone Management indicates that Grindstone Management is an entity that’s on its own and does not have a prior violation history though we’d like to note that Grindstone Management is in fact linked to other entities which do control surface mine operations and are well out of compliance with our state and federal laws that protect clean water in our state for our citizens,” Barkley said. “It’s well known that there’s a tie between Grindstone Management and the Industry mine. In fact, they share not only the chief operating officer Michael Caldwell, but they also share the chief engineer Craig Schoonover and they share the operator Greg Arnett. This is of great concern because Industry mine is currently being sued by our Illinois Attorney General for over 600 violations of their water pollution discharge permit under the Clean Water Act. The lawsuit was initially filed by the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club and Prairie Rivers Network. It was overfiled by the Attorney General. This dates back to the winter of 2009.”

Barkley continued: “Clearly a complete and accurate violation history has not been provided for all surface mine operations controlled by the same interests as the applicant, and I would argue that this permit application is not complete and should not have been put out on public notice. That should be provided by the applicant and should be there for the agency to consider.”

Barkley also criticized various aspects of the permit application itself, including water quality safeguards and post-mining reclamation plans. Another frequent attender at these OMM coal permit meetings, Joyce Blumenshine of the Sierra Club, offered similar criticisms about mine management and mine plans.

Littleton would be a 773-acre operation located just east of the town of Littleton in Schuyler County. The March 1 application shows that this mine would work the Colchester #2 coal seam. That seam ranges from 1.6 to 2.8 feet thick in the permit area, with overburden ranging from 38 to 73 feet. Analysis shows coal specs within the seam of 2.9% pyritic sulfur, 5.2% total sulfur, 13,054 Btu/lb and 9.8% ash. Planned production is 400,000 raw tons per year for about four years, with total production over the mine life of about 1.4 million tons. Based on the OMM’s past permitting pace, a permit for this operation will take at least a year to get.

The application shows that the CEO of Grindstone Management is Brian Veldhuizen, the COO is Michael Caldwell and the Vice President is Thomas Austin. These are the same parties behind long-established Illinois coal producer Springfield Coal Co. LLC.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.