Concerns voiced over minePublished 8:03am Sunday, March 17, 2013
The message was clear: Beaufort County residents have concerns, worries and fears about how the proposed operations of a pit mine near the headwaters of Blounts Creek would affect the creek and surrounding environment.
They voiced their concerns at a public hearing conducted by the N.C. Division of Water Quality on Thursday night at Beaufort County Community College. The auditorium where the hearing was conducted was nearly filled with speakers and observers.
Martin Marietta Materials is seeking permits to operate a pit mine east of the Wilmar area in southern Beaufort County. As currently proposed, the mine could discharge up to 12 million gallons of wastewater a day from its operations into Blounts Creek. That’s what concerns many of the 22 people who spoke during the hearing. Several of the speakers said they do not oppose the mine, but they do oppose the plan for it to discharge its wastewater into the creek. They would prefer that wastewater put discharged into holding ponds or pumped into the underlying Castle Hayne aquifer at the mine site.
Other speakers questioned the accuracy of research indicating that discharging the mine’s wastewater into the creek would cause little, if any, damage to the creek and the fish in it.
Belhaven resident Dick Hamilton, representing the Coastal Fisheries Reform Group and the N.C. Wildlife Federation, said the proposal would deplete the aquifer and degrade the water quality of Blounts Creek and other interconnected waterways.
“The stakes are too high. The risks are too great. So, let’s don’t roll the dice on Blounts Creek,” said Hamilton, adding that the organizations he represents oppose issuing the permits to discharge wastewater into the creek.
Heather Deck, riverkeeper for the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation, said Martin Marietta Materials has not thoroughly considered other options when it comes to disposing of wastewater from the mine. She also said discharging wastewater into the creek would significantly change its pH and alter the species of fish in the creek, something the law prohibits.
“PTRF concludes that DWQ cannot approve the permit that changes the species composition of the water that is not similar to that of referenced conditions. Therefore, DWQ must deny the NPDES permit,” Deck said.
Byron Bateman believes discharging the wastewater into the creek is not the right way to dispose of the wastewater.
“The introduction of up to 12 million gallons a day of fresh water will undeniably impact the physical, chemical and biological traits of Blounts Creek. … Blounts Creek occupies an ecological sweet spot within our ecosystem. The organisms that currently thrive here are in tune with that slightly acidic water. They’re doing just fine there. The fish are doing just fine there. Everything is pretty good. They will be, undeniably, negatively impacted by the kinds of pH increase this discharge will bring about,” he said.
After reviewing data and public comments related to the issuance of required permits needed to discharge wastewater from the mine site, DWQ staff will make recommendations to the DWQ Director Chuck Wakild regarding issuance of the permits, said Paul Rawls, a DWQ staff member.
The deadline to submit written comments on the proposal is April 12. Within 60 days of that deadline, the DWQ director will issue a decision on the state-required 401 water quality certification permit, Rawls said. Within 90 days of the deadline, the director will issue a decision on the federally required National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.