U.S. aluminum giant Alcoa is moving forward with plans to expand the Liberty surface coal mine in Warrick County, Indiana, by asking the state Supreme Court to overturn a split lower court ruling on a controversial surface mining ordinance passed by the city of Boonville, the county seat.
Since early this year, the city of Boonville and the Save our Homes local citizens group have been challenging a permit issued in early 2018 by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources for a proposed 3,516-acre extension of the steam coal mine operated for Alcoa by White Stallion Energy of Evansville, Indiana.
Liberty produced 801,272 tons of steam coal in the first half of 2018 and 1.4 million tons in 2017, according to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. The mine has approximately 75 employees.
Pittsburgh-based Alcoa said it needs the extension to increase production at Liberty to about 1.7 million tons per year (tpy) to supply its 755-megawatt (MW) Warrick power plant near Yankeetown. The baseload plant generates electricity for Alcoa’s nearby Warrick Operations, which includes three energy-intensive aluminum-making potlines that are restarting as well as a large aluminum rolling mill.
Two of the three potlines are producing aluminum again, while the third is expected to resume operations on September 17 after it was idled by a brief power outage on May 28.
Alcoa has asked the Indiana Supreme Court to overturn Warrick Superior Court Special Judge Carl Heldt’s decision earlier this summer. Heldt ruled that Boonville had no authority to regulate Liberty’s proposed expansion. However, the judge also upheld Boonville’s moratorium on blasting within 1,000 feet of city utilities and infrastructure.
While Alcoa is pursuing the Liberty project and has appealed Heldt’s decision, the company also continues to talk to the homeowners’ group in hopes of reaching a mutually acceptable settlement, a company official said in late August.
Supreme Court appeals in Indiana typically take months to resolve, making a final ruling on Alcoa’s appeal unlikely before the end of this year.
White Stallion, owned by veteran Midwest coal operator Steve Chancellor, acquired Liberty’s previous owner — Vigo Coal Inc. of Evansville — nearly two years ago along with Solar Sources Inc., another small Indiana coal producer.