Not my mine! Citizens protest proposed mine before DHEC hearing
July 31st, 2018
By Michaele Duke
Red shirts filled the Andrews High School parking lot as citizens who oppose a proposed limestone quarry in Earles showed up to protest. The group rallied ahead of a July 26, joint public hearing of DHEC’s Bureau of Land and Waste Management and Bureau of Air Quality. The formal hearing allowed citizens an opportunity to comment on the mine that will be considered by DHEC officials in making a permit decision. In November 2017, DHEC hosted a drop-in meeting where staff answered questions about the permitting process.
Most comments were like David McKenzie’s, who had concerns that the quality of life and the environment will be harmed if RDA, the company behind the project, is successful in building the mine. “I ate my first fish out of Black River,” said McKenzie. “But if they drill - whatever they going to do with this stupid mine, I won’t be able to take my grandson fishing.”
RDA, LLC purchased and leased nearly 1,000 acres in Williamsburg County near the Earles community. The land is bound by Seaboard Road to the south, U.S. Highway 521 to the north, Wheeler Road to the east and Tad Road to the west. Originally purchased to build a sod farm, the property yielded limestone that meets standards for use in road construction.
In June 2017, and on behalf of RDA, Craig Kennedy, a geologist and former chief of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, Bureau of Land and Waste Management, Mine Permitting Division, submitted an application for a mine operating permit. The application states the mine will be approximately 55 feet from ground surface with a maximum depth of 65 feet. The application also includes the point source discharge from the mine will be primarily groundwater from mine dewatering and storm water routed into the pit. Should it become necessary to release water from the wash water system, the release will be directed to the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) outfall designated for discharge for wastewater and groundwater.
In addition, the application states it is anticipated that this maximum rate of discharge (2.5 million gallons per day) occurs during the first five to seven years of mining. As the pit increases in size, the rate of groundwater inflow typically increases. However, as the pit increases in size the expected increase in groundwater inflow is expected to be mitigated by the backfilling of overburden and beginnings of reclamation on mined out sections of the pit. The backfilled overburden can “seal” the limestone stratum along the pit highwalls and reduce the rate of groundwater inflow into the pit.
Furthermore, as the mine continues to mature, larger mined out sections of the pit will become available for reclamation and subsequent flooding. Any water from the groundwater dewatering station directed to a mine out section of the open pit suitable to impound water will reduce the amount of groundwater to be discharged through the NPDES Outfall 001 and provide recharge to the groundwater system.
Clark Wooten is one of the owners of RDA and addressed the crowd. He said RDA and its mining operating partner, American Materials Company, LLC, have said and agreed that environmental conditions on the draft mine permit are more stringent than other applicable to limestone operations, past or present in South Carolina. He added that they intend to operate within the written requirements of the permit as well as with the spirit of the intent. “We pledge to continue to be open and honest with our overview and answer questions if anyone may have about the mine and any environmental issues associated with the mine,” said Wooten.
As for economic growth, a brochure published by American Materials Company, a provider of aggregate materials in portions of North and South Carolina, states the quarry will see an initial investment of $15 million and the creation of up to 25 jobs in the first two years. American Materials Company (AMC) is headquartered in Wilmington, North Carolina and is a subsidiary of Summit, which is one of the largest producers of crushed stone in the United States. Since Summit’s formation, the company has completed more than 43 acquisitions, operating in 24 states and British Columbia, Canada.
Tim Bizzell President, AMC also addressed the crowd. He said the company works with schools, churches, sports teams and others to become a partner and friend. “I understand your concerns that you’re having here tonight,” he said. “I too came from small town. Everyone there, like everyone here were friends and neighbors. Given the chance, we would like the opportunity to prove to you guys that we can become friends.”
Limestone is used in a variety of ways such as a crushed stone for road base and railroad ballast, an aggregate in concrete, a weather and heat-resistant coating on asphalt-impregnated shingles and roofing, and a soil treatment agent in agriculture.
None of that matters to those who are fighting the mine. Environmental attorney and a 1970 graduate of the Williamsburg County school system, Stan Barnett recently responded to a letter to the editor written to The News, by Kennedy who claimed the mine will have no adverse impacts to the environment. Kennedy cited positive economic impact and RDA, LLC will put in place proactive measures to prevent adverse impacts to water supplies in the community, among other measures.
Barnett said the information provided by Kennedy is false. He said a limestone mine could drain hundreds of acres of wetlands adjacent to the excavations as well as possibly prevent Atlantic Sturgeon from spawning in the Black River. “The claim that there would be no impact on the wetlands is completely unsupported,” said Barnett in a telephone conversation. During the public hearing Barnett reiterated his concerns. “Every single wetland will be drained completely dry if they pump out the groundwater to the limit they want to pump it out,” said Barnett who is relying on statements from Steve Powell, an expert in the field. He is in the proccess of sending DHEC a letter with the Powell letter report on the effects of the dewatering and the Brigman Company report on the extent of wetlands within a half mile of the site.
Barnett said a cone of depression study should be conducted. “What that study will tell us is how far away where ground water is being pumped, you’ll expect to see effects.” According to Cornell University, when wells are pumped, the water level in the casing is lowered (drawn down) relative to the water level in the aquifer. This drawdown causes stored water in the aquifer to flow towards the well. The cone of depression refers to this drawdown, since the water level surface in the aquifer material exhibits a conical shape with increasing distance in all directions away from the well. In unconfined aquifers, the water level is typically affected less than 100 feet away, but can extend for several hundred feet. However, in confined aquifers, the water level can be affected for several hundred to several thousand feet away.
Barnett has also written to DHEC and the Corps of Engineers requesting the Corps of Engineers suspend the Nationwide Permit 44 authorization issued to RDA, LLC to discharge fill material into wetlands as well as a request for DHEC to not issue a mining permit.
Kennedy also spoke during the public hearing where he pointed to sinkholes and her concerns citizens brought up. He provided a perspective, saying when most sinkholes occurred in the 1970s and early 80s, ground water controls were not regulated. He said unlimited pumping outside the areas was allowed and there were no blasting regulations, or blasting setbacks with no limits on ground vibrations that can cause structural damage to homes as well as reviews for endangered species were limited if at all conducted.
Kennedy said since the 1990s or so, geology, mine design and considerations for preventing sinkholes are much more in front of DHEC and used for the criteria for permitting mine sites. “The ground water drawdown is going to be restricted,” said Kennedy. “It’s not going to be pumped dry in all places of the mine.” He said it has to remain at least two feet above comparable limestone. “That restricts the limit of groundwater drawdown in the surrounding areas.”
Kennedy added that subsurface investigations still have to be conducted to determine the top of the limestone much more precisely. He said DHEC is also required RDA put into place a sinkhole-monitoring and contingency plan. “This is unprecedented,” said Kennedy. “DHEC has never required this in the past and something we fully embrace because it certainty provides for ground water monitoring and looking for sinkholes as well as additional internal groundwater surveys to help define more precisely using actual ground water data.”
In January 2018, The South Carolina Environmental Law Project wrote to DHEC and the Corps of Engineers on behalf of the Coastal Conservation League, the Wildlife Federation and other agencies. In the letter, staff attorney Jessie White states anticipated impacts go beyond the scope of the Nationwide Permit coverage for the major mining and processing activities proposed for the forested wetland area and requested the authorization be denied and processed as an individual permit.
The letter also requests an Environmental Impact Statement should be required and the agencies consider the ways in the which the permit application falls short, saying, “The proposed limestone mining and processing project runs contrary to the letter and spirit of the agency’s directive and should not be permitted.
Dawn Jordan Higbe attended the meeting and was disappointed with the turnout. Afterward she wrote to her social media friends, “If you didn’t show up to fight for our home and our environment, you don’t deserve a right to complain. There is power in numbers. A whole lot more people in Andrews should have shown up tonight to stand for what is right and fight against this quarry. There should have been people lining the halls outside of that auditorium fighting to get in and be a part. If the limestone mining permit passes and the above conditions occur, I know where I was and I can say that I didn’t go down without a fight.”
In April 2017, Williamsburg County Council passed a symbolic vote opposing the quarry since the county has no zoning laws in place. Visit www.scdhec.gov/RDAMine for more information about the proposed project. Comments and concerns can be mailed to by 5 p.m. August 10. If you would like to be on the mailing list to receive future information from DHEC about the proposed project, contact Ruthie Hall at [email protected] or (803) 898-4379.