The county commissioners this week approved a zoning change that will allow for a coal storage facility to be constructed in Edwardsport near the Duke Energy power plant.

Tanner Bouchie, an attorney with HartBell LLC representing Sunrise Coal, Oaktown, went before the commissioners weeks ago with a request to change the zoning on three parcels of land off Villwock Road near Edwardsport from agricultural to industrial.

Sunrise Coal’s plan is to build a storage facility there as well as a belt over Indiana 67 and directly to the Duke Energy power plant.

“In the hope that Knox County coal can be used to power the Duke Energy plant,” Bouchie told the commissioners on Tuesday.

Currently, the plant is supplied coal by rail.

The request was reviewed earlier this month by members of the Area Plan Commission and received a favorable recommendation.

Commission president Kellie Streeter, too, said she wanted to “publicly commend” Sunrise Coal for “making the time and effort” to meet as well with officials in Edwardsport and Bicknell regarding their plans.

Chris Pfaff, president of the Knox County Development Corp., said he, too, had been in communication with Sunrise Coal and even visited the site, and he is in full support of the project.

Bouchie said building the storage facility adjacent to Duke Energy makes local coal jobs “more viable into the future,” and it ensures the 180 Knox County employees at Sunrise Coal keep their jobs.

“Our goal is just to make sure local coal is used at the Duke plant,” he told the commissioners.

The commissioners unanimously approved the measure with Streeter saying there was really “no reason we wouldn’t rezone.”

But this isn’t the last locals will hear of the Sunrise Coal project, she said.

The county, in partnership with Sunrise Coal, will need to seek multiple permits through the Indiana Department of Transportation regarding the increase in coal truck traffic from Oaktown through Bruceville and Bicknell and on to Edwardsport as well as the conveyor belt that will need to extend over Indiana 67 to connect the two facilities.

“I have no intent of holding up the coal mine,” Streeter said of Sunrise Coal’s plans. “They are a wonderful partner, and they’ve kept us completely in the loop. We know this will have a huge economic impact locally.

“But adding 200 coal trucks a day carrying 25 tons of coal from Oaktown to Bruceville back around via 67 east to Bicknell and then to Edwardsport — there are obviously some safety concerns.”

Streeter said they are still in the first steps of requesting those permits, so she’s not entirely sure how the process will work — or whether or not there will be an opportunity for public input.

But the ultimate goal, she said, is to make sure that the additional coal trucks will pose no greater threat to motorists. It could mean caution lights, additional stoplights or widened lanes with necessary ingress and egress, among other changes, all to make sure traffic flows safely and easily.

“So we just want to work with INDOT to make sure all those safety concerns are addressed,” Streeter said. “And the people of Edwardsport are still always in the back of my mind.

“I know they get worn out with more and more and more.”

In other business, the commissioners Tuesday approved their annual contract with the KCDC.

The agreement is the same, Streeter said, as in years past and it essentially “retains” KCDC for services that include attracting new industry, service to existing businesses and the coordination of economic development efforts, among others, at a cost of $48,000 per year.

The county also gives to the KCDC $150,000 per year specifically for capital improvement efforts.

The county council last year cut those contributions by half, but they were reinstated to their full, previous amounts for 2021.

The commissioners also voted 2-1 to move their meetings — held the first and third Tuesdays of the month at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. respectively — to the Pantheon: A Business and Innovation Theatre at 428 Main St.

The Pantheon is a new co-working space and small business incubator opened in partnership with Purdue University and paid for by city and county elected officials as well as the KCDC and city’s Redevelopment Commission.

Commissioner Tim Ellerman, though, voted against moving the meetings, which are usually held in the commissioners room at the Knox County Courthouse.

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