South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Environmental law group weighs in on rock quarry
May 24th, 2018

By Brian Garner, The News & Reporter

Note: This is Part II of an article about the South Carolina Environmental Law Project (SCELP) and their concerns about the Fishing Creek Rock Quarry, which they expressed in a comment letter to DHEC.

S.C. Environmental Law Project Upstate Coordinator Michael Corley said as part of what his organization does, he was reviewing public notices for DHEC permits and happened to see this announcement for a permit to mine on property along Fishing Creek. Having previous experience in a case involving Fishing Creek, Corley said, “I knew that Fishing Creek was an environmentally and ecologically valuable resource and a resource that was really important to a lot of land use, farming and that sort of thing. I also knew that it was an area where the Carolina heelsplitter (a freshwater mussel on the Endangered Species List) lived,” he said.

“It seemed problematic to me that a mine would be located in that site that was so close to Fishing Creek,” Corley said.

In their comment paper to DHEC, the SCELP expressed many concerns on the environmental impact of anyone building a mine so close to Fishing Creek.

One of the issues of environmental impact is how stormwater on the site will be handled, Corley said.

“Right now, when it rains on that site, it rains into a forest and a naturally-functioning wetlands and naturally-functioning floodplain. What they (mining company Hardrock Aggregates) are replacing that with is an impervious driveway and equipment and everything else that comes with a mine.

“Water falls onto that and it drains and starts running towards the river. It picks up mud and dust and all these things, and then it goes into a stormwater pond. Look at the design of the stormwater pond (submitted to DHEC by Hardrock Aggregates in the course of their discharge permit application) and you see there’s still going to be a good bit of sediment discharged into the stormwater ponds when we have storms.

“To me, it doesn’t look as if, and it never is the case, where the stormwater design replaces what was there in nature. You’re talking about stormwater runoff and sediment runoff which is particularly dangerous to water quality, which is then dangerous to the heelsplitter,” he said.

The loss of the floodplain that currently exists is also a concern to Corley and the SCELP and other signatories of the comment letter.

Where the proposed quarry is, Corley pointed out, “You’re talking about replacing a floodplain. The floodplain serves a valuable role as when we do get rain and we get floodwaters out into Fishing Creek, it expands into the floodplain and it absorbs some of the water and slows it down,” he said, indicating by sketching out a diagram of how the floodplain works, “when it rains, in a naturally-functioning floodplain, and you get a big rain event, the floodplain holds the water, so it comes back down gradually – you don’t get a huge, rapid flood. But when you lose your floodplain and you lose your wetlands, you get your base flow, and then it spikes really high and comes back down, so floods like that can cause torrents of water to come if your floodplain is lost.

“That’s another thing that is really hazardous to water quality and to the Carolina heelsplitter.

“And I’m not confident at all that these issues have been addressed,” he said.

Corley said the comment letter the SCELP and other signatories addressed to DHEC asks for a public hearing, where they will have a chance to comment and express their concerns and get answers from the process.

“The focus of my letter was the stormwater system and the runoff and making the discharges into Fishing Creek,” Corley said.

“We also want to address what the mining company said about discharging a lot of clean groundwater into the creek, the inaccuracies of that argument; you’re talking about changing the chemistry, the temperature and the makeup of the water that those creatures currently exist in. You can’t just assume ‘we’re pumping a lot of clean water into the river, so it’s inherently a good thing.’ That’s not necessarily true,” Corley said.

An issue that Corley and the SCELP often comes up against in many projects, as in this case, is what are the landowner’s property rights to do with as he pleases with his own land?

“I don’t think that anybody affiliated with what I will call “our side,” those who are concerned about this project, would begrudge anybody of their private property rights. That’s not what we’re about, but there are a few things to take into account with that: first, your private property rights have to stop where they start impinging on another person’s private property rights. That’s obviously a concern here. If your private property rights lead to big mining trucks and trains rumbling down the road and down the tracks and preventing me from enjoying my property, well, you’ve moved on from enjoying your property to diminishing mine,” Corley said.

Secondly, the quarry isn’t just a project that’s happening on one person’s private property; by asking to discharge their water from the mining process into Fishing Creek, the mining company is asking to use public property as well.

“And in my opinion…that’s a big “ask” because they’re asking to utilize a river that’s important to this community, important to other users, important environmentally and important to the heelsplitter, this unique asset that Chester County has that almost nobody else has,” said Corley.

Corley said the SCELP always takes the approach of looking for solutions that work for everybody – that is something they do.

“It would be a rare situation where we would ever say there was no compromise position here; the bigger question is there a solution that is going to work for public assets and the environment and the community that will also be profitable for the mining company? That’s something I can’t speak to,” Corley said.

“We would welcome any discussion of compromise,” he said.

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