Illinois rejected an application for a permit for a strip coal mine that opponents claimed would have threatened a tiny village's water supply and various animals in a nearby wildlife area.
Chicago-based Capital Resources Development Co. proposed building the 600-acre surface mine in an Illinois River floodplain near the Rice Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area and the 150-resident village of Banner.
The Sierra Club and other opponents said that would jeopardize drinking water supplies in the area, along with nesting osprey, a bald eagle roost and habitat for the short-eared owl, which is on the state's endangered list. Critics also warned the mine could compromise the structural integrity of the village's wastewater-treatment plant.
They cheered the Department of Natural Resources' ruling, crediting the agency and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, whose office joined in the challenge of the proposed mine.
"Banner could have lost its wells and water if the coal mine had happened," Banner Mayor Ken Fuller said. "I was really scared. My town could have died."
Capital Resources did not immediately return a message left Tuesday seeking comment, including on whether the company planned to reapply for the permit or simply give up its plans for the mine.
The DNR signed off on the project in 2007, but the Sierra Club and members of Citizens for the Preservation of Banner Township and Save Rice Lake Area Association filed for a review of that permit. An administrative hearing officer denied the permit in September 2009 for various reasons, including the possible presence of threatened or endangered species near the site, said Tim Schweizer, a DNR spokesman.
But the hearing officer never signed an administrative order formally rejecting the permit, and the matter languished. The DNR recently "just decided to move forward and issue the final order in this case," Schweizer said.
The delay upset some area residents.
"It should not have had to take so many years to decide this permit appeal," said John Grigsby, a Banner resident and key petitioner in the appeal. He said Madigan "comprehended what was at stake with this strip mine permit and took action on behalf of the future of our river floodplain and for the good of the regular citizens like me."
Cindy Skrukrud of the Sierra Club of Illinois said she hopes the permit's denial "heralds a new chapter in how our state sites new mines."
"It is my hope that in future mining issues the IDNR will heed concerns raised by ordinary citizens earlier in the review process," she said.
While serving as lieutenant governor in 2005, Gov. Pat Quinn warned the mine could pollute and cut into the area's tourism potential. He launched an online petition drive against the project and urged the mine's developers to look elsewhere, insisting "nature-based tourism is booming in Illinois, but this strip mine plan sends tourists and eagles packing."