South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Mining company withdraws permit for rock quarry
November 8th, 2018

By Brian Garner, The News & Reporter

The mining company that planned to locate the Fishing Creek Rock Quarry off of Fishing Creek Church Road in Chester County has withdrawn the application to S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) for a permit to construct the mine.

“The cost to permit the rock quarry is too high risk for us to pursue. We are only proposing a small borrow pit for fill dirt and have no further plans to develop this mine,” said Jerry Meade, project manager for Hard Rock Aggregates.

The mine application received strong opposition from the nearby Fishing Creek community, who claimed the blasting on the site, the expected large amount of truck traffic on Fishing Creek Church Road and the environmental impact of the mining operations would destroy the character of the community. The Fishing Creek community rallied around their opposition and created a group, the Friends and Farmers for Fishing Creek, that created t-shirts, sent representatives to Chester County Council and Planning Commission meetings, erected yard signs advocating against the quarry and held several strategic meetings. They also collected signatures on a petition (which at last count had over 500 signatures) in opposition to the proposed quarry.

Chester County Natural Gas Authority also weighed in on the location of the mine on over 200 acres because the truck traffic would take the vehicles right over a gas transmission line.

Chester Natural Gas Authority and Patriots Energy Group (PEG - of which CCNGA is a part, along with York and Lancaster County Natural Gas Authorities) sent a comment letter to DHEC’s Bureau of Land and Waste Management, which provides permits for mines.

The letter from CCNGA/PEG was written to address ‘our concerns and requirements with regard to the effect of the quarry on our operations and on the public at large. Our review of the application reveals, as would be expected, a plan to use “typical mining equipment” and to “fracture with explosives” the exposed granite rock. Although the application states there are “no inhabited structures located within ½ mile of the mining operation,” we would note that the location of the quarry is adjacent to a steel 12-inch high pressure natural gas transmission pipeline…that serves as the primary natural gas supply for York, Chester and Lancaster Counties.’

An email from Jeremy Eddy, DHEC Project Manager, Division of Mining and Solid Waste Management dated Nov. 8th to ‘All Concerned’ stated ‘On November 5, 2018, DHEC received a request from HARD rock Aggregates, LLC to withdraw the mine operating permit application for Fishing Creek Quarry (I-002206).

‘Due to the withdrawal of the application, a public hearing will no longer be scheduled. There will be no further action on this application.’

Eddy continues, ‘also for your information, Hard Rock Aggregates, LLC has submitted an application for a Mining General Permit (GP1). The GP1 is limited to five acres of land disturbance to a depth of 20 feet. There will be no processing of material at this site, and blasting will not be permitted. A technical review of the application is currently ongoing.’

Jerry Meade with the engineering firm of Meade Gunnell, who was the project manager for Hard Rock, said a expensive request to the SCDOT for asphalt pavement on the roads leading to the quarry and the cost and risk factor associated with fixing the impact on the environment made the project too expensive to consider any longer.

“We haven’t really studied the environment, and it seems like we’d have to end up spending a couple of $100,000 to prove that (the claimed impact on the environment) is either right or wrong; we felt like spending that couple of $100,000 to prove and the quarry not be able to work would be a waste of money.

“We thought when we first looked at the site it was out in the middle of nowhere, that you wouldn’t impact anybody.

“Apparently, we were caught off guard with all the environmental stuff and all of the public opposition,” Meade said.

He said the organized opposition played a factor in Hard Rock’s decision not to proceed.

“That’s the normal reaction you get when you try to get a mine permitted. You have people that don’t understand or don’t want it, or maybe they do understand, but they certainly don’t want it,” Meade said.

He said when it was determined the endangered species the Carolina heelsplitter mussel, was found to exist in Fishing Creek, the thought of how much it was going to cost Hard Rock to make sure there was no environmental impact, was also a reason they decided not to proceed.

“We would have to have spend at least $100,000 to address that issue. There were other complications at the site as well: people were concerned about the blasting and things like that.

“The money that we would have had to put forth to try and get a permit was more than we felt like we wanted to spend,” Meade said.

The Friends and Farmers for Fishing Creek got a strong boost when the South Carolina Environmental Law Project signed on to take up the banner of the community in their opposition to the rock quarry.

The SCELP provided scientific documentation showing the Carolina heelsplitter freshwater mussel, lived in Fishing Creek and the organism’s environment would be adversely impacted by the construction and operation of a quarry.

‘Hard Rock has withdrawn the mining permit that has been the source of controversy for many months now. This is an enormous victory for common sense and sound land use,’ wrote Michael Corley, an attorney who is the Upstate Coordinator for the SCELP.

Corley continued, ‘One of my first observations regarding this mine was that it was a square peg in a round hole. The community members of Fishing Creek, along with myself and my environmental partners--Catawba Riverkeepers, American Rivers, and South Carolina Wildlife Federation--have done everything in our power over the last several months to bring attention to just how poorly-sited this proposed mine was.

‘Credit to Hard Rock, as well as the property owner John Black, in recognizing the incompatibility of this site and withdrawing, rather than continuing to hammer away at the square peg.

‘If a market demand for granite exists, then obviously mines like this have to be sited somewhere. But this particular site had as many major problems as I've seen in my career as an environmental lawyer,’ Corley wrote.

‘I've spent the last several months communicating with all varieties of state and federal agencies, all of which had different concerns about this mine, including: endangered species, roads, gas pipeline safety, historical and cultural resources, and water quality. The portion of this property abutting Fishing Creek is quite special, and I hope that it can be put to a use consistent with that value. Obviously a mine was not that.

‘In the email notice DHEC indicated that Hard Rock has applied for a small mining general permit, which allows five acres or less of topsoil excavation. No mining of granite would be allowed under that permit. We are working at getting to the bottom of the intent behind this application, but it does not currently appear to be anything problematic for the environment or the community,’ Corley wrote.

He added, ‘It is so refreshing to see a rural community engage and speak up in order to protect what they love about their land. This part of Chester County is quite beautiful, and I have no doubt that if it wasn't for the voice and attention of the citizens of Fishing Creek, this mine permit would still be pending. This is a significant victory in many ways, including in that it shows the power of local engagement.

‘As for the Carolina Heelsplitter, the endangered animal that has received much attention during this controversy, I hope that locals will continue to pay attention to, and take pride in, this incredibly rare resource. If the Heelsplitter only receives attention when a development project is proposed, then it will fall into that trap of being viewed only as an obstacle, not as an opportunity.

‘Fishing Creek in Chester County contains an animal with an interesting life cycle, that is down to a population of dozens in the entire world. I'm hopeful that the experience of this mine will initiate a more general sense of pride in the amazing natural resources in this community.

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