PCS Phosphate gets
Published 10:10 pm Friday, January 16, 2009
its DWQ certification
Move clears the wayfor Army Corps permit
By TED STRONG
The N.C. Division of Water Quality is calling it a decision that makes everyone happy. PCS Phosphate is treating it as a reluctantly accepted compromise.
Either way, the state has issued a revised water quality certification for the company’s bid to vastly expand its mine-and-plant complex in Aurora.
The expansion of PCS Phosphate, which is a subsidiary of a Canadian minerals conglomerate, has been a lightning rod for controversy in recent years.
One local environmental group criticized the Division of Water Quality’s decision.
This 401 water quality certification was the last major hurdle the company faced before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can draft a decision on a federal permit for the expansion.
He said it’s impossible to know exactly when a decision will come.
The next potential obstacle would be a separate decision by an outside agency. Several federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, must sign off on the Corps of Engineers’ decision. If they object, they can force the Corps of Engineers’ national office to review the decision, a process that lasts 45 days.
A wide variety of elected officials, including Beaufort County commissioners, have passed resolutions and sent letters to regulatory agencies backing the company, which is the largest employer in Beaufort Count with more than 1,000 employees. Vaught thanked the community and the elected officials for their support.
The company had objected to an early 401 certification that allowed them to clear a small corridor in a hardwoods wetland to allow them to move equipment across it, but banned any mining in the sensitive area.
The company felt the strategy would be too expensive, in part because it would have to construct massive ramps to move its equipment from the mine pits up to the travel corridor, said John Dorney, supervisor of the wetlands program’s development unit at the N.C. Division of Water Quality.
Under the new proposal, the county can mine a strip through the narrowest section of the wetland.
Because the giant trench will fragment the wetland, PCS Phosphate will have to do substantial work to revitalize the corridor and reconnect the different parts of the wetland once it has mined through it, Dorney said.
Susan Massengale, a Division of Water Quality spokeswoman, said the agency made the decision after PCS Phosphate pled its case.
The wetland in question is west of the company’s present mine. Concerns about wetlands east of the mine, where the company also wants to expand, attracted controversy earlier in the roughly eight-year permitting process.
Dorney said other provisions of the certification will require vigilant monitoring of water quality in the small creeks near the mine to ensure they maintain their chemical and biological characters.
He said, “We want to be sure that those streams still function like primary nurseries.”
But the PTRF maintains those provisions aren’t strict enough.
Their statement read: “The 401 certification does not adequately minimize environmental damage or assess and manage the long-term negative consequences as required by state law. DWQ has avoided their responsibilities, and we are left wondering why.”