Archived Story

Mine proposal back in spotlight

Published 9:01pm Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The public hearing promised a year ago by state officials regarding a proposed open-pit mine is scheduled for next month.

In January 2012, state environmental officials asked Martin Marietta Materials to give more thought to its plans to discharge groundwater into two tributaries of Blounts Creek before it drafts a permit for the operation of a quarry in southern Beaufort County. Officials also said the public would get the opportunity to comment on the proposed permits.

The hearing will take place at 7 p.m. March 14 at the Building 8 auditorium on the campus of Beaufort County Community College. Already residents are organizing to express their concerns to state officials before two key permits are issued: a NPDES discharge permit, to discharge an average of 12,000,000 gallons of per day into the upper reaches of Blounts Creek; and a water quality certification for impacts to wetlands and streams.

According to a press release from the N.C. Division of Water Quality, the discharge will consist of groundwater and commingled stormwater and may impact the water quality of Blounts Creek. Martin Marietta was asked by state officials to address three main issues regarding environmental impact: flood elevations near the Cotton Patch subdivision, excessive erosion from continuous discharge and water quality, specifically pH and salinity.

A September report from CZR Incorporated, an environmental consulting firm hired by Martin Marietta Materials, read, “Shifts in pH, whether acidic or alkaline, are important because they alter the configuration of enzymes used by fish to regulate acute biochemical process that maintain both blood and tissue pH.”

While the pH of headwaters of Blounts Creek is between 4.0 and 5.5, analysis predicts the pH could be elevated between 6.5 to 6.9 with the 12 MGD discharge. The CZR report states that the near neutral pH may actually provide a more suitable habitat for “a diverse realm of freshwater species.”

“The memo is very concerning, as they have depicted the discharge as nothing but a benefit for fisheries in Blounts Creek,” was the response to the report on Pamlico-Tar River Foundation’s website.

PTRF Executive Director David Emmerling disagrees with CZR’s findings. He said an influx of so much fresh water in the creek every day would upset the balance of nature.

“It could unbalance an ecosystem in the upper regions of the creek, one that is brackish. (That ecosystem) is balanced around the ebb and flow, a normal, natural balance. This is going to weight that in a different direction.”

Brackish water made fresher only touches the surface of opposition to the mine.

“Degradation is to be concerned about — related to fisheries, increased erosion. There’s a whole list of impacts that goes along with that volume of discharge,” Emmerling said, but it’s the “nursery” aspect of the creek that generates the most concern.

“It’s a great primary nursery area — good for the young fin fish and shellfish to incubate. It’s got subaquatic vegetation, the right level of brackish. It’s a good habitat for the little fish to become big fish,” Emmerling said. “In my mind, we’re really messing with Mother Nature here.”

Before the hearing, doors will open at 6 p.m. for speaker registration and sign-in. Written comments will be accepted.

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