Fayette County waiting on coal bed methane proposals; Farm Bureau asks board to move slowly

Fayette County waiting on coal bed methane proposals; Farm Bureau asks board to move slowly

Saturday, August 12th 2006

After meeting in closed session for almost two hours, Fayette County officials reported that negotiations on the sale of the county’s coal bed methane rights are continuing.

That announcement came about two hours after a local organization that represents a large number of Fayette County farmers asked the board to take its time and consider all possible ramifications before it makes a decision to sell those rights.

At the end of the board’s closed session, board chairman Dean Black said, “They (BPI) are preparing some formal proposals for us.”

At last month’s board meeting, BPI President and Chief Executive Officer James Azlein said the company was preparing an offer on the county’s 159,214 acres of coal bed methane rights.

Fayette County State’s Attorney Stephen Friedel is currently representing the county in those negotiations, but said that he will be hiring an attorney with expertise in this specialized area of law to assist him, just like he did when the county leased – and later sold – its coal rights.

After speaking with that attorney, Friedel said, “I will advise the county board, and we’ll go from there.”

At the start of Tuesday’s meeting, members of a new subcommittee of the Fayette County Farm Bureau voiced their concerns about the sale of the coal bed methane rights.

Jon Phillips read a written statement on behalf of that subcommittee, in which that group asks the county board to move slowly and cautiously in this matter.

“We and our membership are very concerned about methane gas drilling in our county,” Phillips said, reading the statement.

“Many issues come up; some can be resolved at this time, with contract language between the county and the methane gas company,” the prepared statement reads.

“This county board will have the final say over the contract language with a methane gas company for Fayette County.

“You have the power to protect the landowners and agriculture of this county for many years to come in the contract language that you can include in the final contract,” the statement reads.

“We encourage you to take time to study all aspects of this sale. Include provisions that protect and compensate our No. 1 industry in the county – agriculture,” the statement reads.

The subcommittee for which Phillips served as spokesperson on Tuesday night was formed recently, when members of the local Farm Bureau Board of Directors realized that coal mining and methane drilling were coming on the horizon.

It was, however, formed prior to the county board’s regular July meeting, during which the county board announced that it would be receiving a proposal from BPI on the county’s coal bed methane rights.

The new subcommittee, along with an Illinois Farm Bureau attorney who specializes in legal matters related to such issues as coal bed methane extraction, met with the county board’s resources committee about a week ago.

That meeting lasted about 45 minutes, and the IFB attorney met with Fayette County State’s Attorney Stephen Friedel for about the same amount of time, according to Ken Cripe, president of the Fayette County Farm Bureau Board of Directors.

Members of the subcommittee felt good about that meeting.

“I think they took what we presented really well,” Cripe said. “I think they learned some things.”

That’s what the Farm Bureau contingent wanted to accomplish.

“We’re all learning about this (coal bed methane drilling),” said Randy Braun, another subcommittee member. “We’re learning as we go.

“We just want them (county board members) not to be in a hurry to do something (with the coal bed methane rights),” Braun said.

Another subcommittee member, Mike Wilhour, said the Farm Bureau group “talked about the impact (of coal bed methane drilling) on the groundwater.”

They also presented the county board’s resource committee with some information on how the drilling for coal bed methane could affect land values in the county.

Citing information from the Dogwood Initiative, a British Columbia land reform organization, a Colorado study determined that coal bed methane wells dropped the land value there by 22 percent.

“Those are your assets,” Cripe said, “and that’s taking away a quarter of your assets.”

Wilhour added that the study was on pastureland. “There are no statistics for tillable land, but it would be more than that (of pastureland),” he said.

Wilhour said the county moved quickly on leasing its coal rights.

“We had no say so with the coal,” he said. “This time, we do, because we have come forward to offer some information.”

Braun said that while the county may be inclined to move on the coal bed methane rights sale in a timely fashion, because it can expedite the coal-mining project, the Farm Bureau subcommittee is asking that board members not be so quick to act.

“They don’t need to be in a hurry to do this,” Braun said.

“If they take their time and consider everything, it will be better for both the county and the landowners,” he said.

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