Archived Story

Court affirms mining certification

Published 5:22pm Thursday, July 18, 2013

Despite a challenge from environmental groups, Wake County Superior Court has affirmed the water-quality certification for mining activities at PotashCorp-Aurora.

“We are pleased with the decision. The court found that as to all claims alleged, proper guidelines were followed with regard to water quality certification during the mine continuation permitting process,” said Steve Beckel, general manager, PCS Phosphate (PotashCorp-Aurora).

“We’re obviously disappointed in the decision. We’re evaluating the order from the judge. The next steps we do or do not take are pending on a meeting and board action,” said Heather Jacobs Deck, PRTF spokeswoman and the Pamlico-Tar riverkeeper. “I can tell you at this time that we are in the process of evaluating it.”

The certification, issued by the N.C. Division of Water Quality, had been challenged by the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation, N.C. Coastal Federation, the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund through the state’s Office of Administrative Hearings. An administrative law judge found in favor of the Division of Water Quality and PotashCorp-Aurora. Subsequently, the matter was heard and approved by the state’s Environmental Management Commission. It was the subject of a petition for judicial review by the court. Earlier this month, Judge Donald Stephens affirmed the certification met state and federal requirements.

In 2000, PCS Phosphate Company Inc. applied for approvals to continue developing its phosphate mine beyond the area covered by earlier permits. In January 2009, the division issued a water quality 401 certification, in accordance with requirements found in section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act.

“When compared to the original proposal from the company, the expansion approved by DWQ had reduced impacts to streams by about 60 percent and to wetlands by about 30 percent. The certification approves impacts to 25,727 feet of streams, 3,953 acres of wetlands, 19 acres of ponds and up to 47.87 acres of streamside buffers,” reads a news release from the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. “These impacts are anticipated to occur over a 35-year period. Among the wetlands no longer being impacted are 38 acres of salt marsh and 172 acres of bottomland hardwood forest that have a direct connection to important downstream estuaries.”

The certification requires protection of the Bonnerton Road nonriverine wet hardwood forest west of the current mining site. This area is deemed a “wetland of exceptional state or national ecological significance” because of its lack of disturbance, age and the diversity of species present, according to the release.

Sedimentation and erosion control, as well as groundwater, must be monitored to ensure that the hydrology of adjacent wetland areas is maintained. A water-management plan and stream-monitoring plan for water quality, water quantity, fish and other aquatic animal populations are required during the life of the permit.

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