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SPRINGFIELD - A coalition of environmental groups wants to block plans for a large resort in Southern Illinois.

Jonathan Goldman, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council, said the group took its position against the plan by the Toney Watkins Co. after a meeting Tuesday.

A company spokeswoman called the decision confusing and disappointing.

"I just don't think they've given the idea enough consideration," said Geri Boyer, an engineer who is working for the Toney Watkins Co.

Goldman said the organizations, which include the Audubon Society and the Sierra Club, are "strenuously opposed" to the project, which would transform at least 2,000 acres of Pyramid State Park near Pinckneyville into a Branson, Mo.-style destination.

Goldman said it would set a bad precedent to give state parkland to private developers, even if the company agrees to give an equal amount of nearby property back to the state.

"We're just opposed to it," he said, adding that there also are concerns about the destruction of habitat in the area, which consists largely of reclaimed strip mine land.

Goldman said the groups will work hard to defeat legislation pending in the State Capitol that would pave the way for the land swap.

Boyer said the environmental groups did not conduct any scientific habitat studies before making their decision.

"I just think they are making a decision on inaccurate information," Boyer said.

If the land swap is approved, the company wants to build a theme park-style resort with golf courses and bicycle racing tracks on the tract. The state hopes the project generates 2,500 jobs in an economically depressed area.


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