PCS stands by validity of water-quality permit

Published 9:45 am Thursday, March 19, 2009

By Staff
Environmentalists challenge expansion of PCS operation
Staff Writer
A PCS Phosphate official has offered the company’s first detailed response to a challenge to a key state permit.
A coalition of environmentalists recently appealed a water-quality certification the company needs for federal approval to expand its Aurora facility.
Ross Smith, PCS Phosphate manager of environmental affairs, reaffirmed his faith in the challenged permit.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ official Tom Walker, who is coordinating the review of the PCS Phosphate proposal, said the appeal hasn’t affected the federal permitting process.
And because the filing technically challenges the state for issuing the permit — not PCS Phosphate — the company has stayed out of the proceedings, Smith said. He added, though, that the company may eventually be involved to some degree.
The environmental groups contend in their filing that the state’s analysis of the costs of alternatives to mining lands was insufficient and did not project far enough into the future. PCS Phosphate contends that avoiding more wetlands would be too costly. The DWQ used an analysis completed by the Corps of Engineers before PCS Phosphate extended the timeframe of the project.
The environmental groups also contend that DWQ bent state rules to approve PCS Phosphate’s mitigation plan for stream banks it anticipates destroying as it expands its mine. They say PCS Phosphate can’t find enough suitable sites to perform the required mitigation, which involves building new wetlands to replace damaged ones.
Smith said the permit requires PCS Phosphate to find more areas where it can perform mitigation before it mines the wetlands in question.
The environmental groups’ appeal will follow the same path as a dispute about a PCS Phosphate quality permit that was decided earlier this month.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service challenged a permit that allowed PCS Phosphate to build a new a sulfuric-acid plant, alleging the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources used the wrong kind of modeling to analyze the new plant’s effect on visibility at the Swan Quarter Wilderness Area.
After PCS Phosphate provided new modeling using FWS criteria, the challenge to the permit was dropped.
But the two agencies, N.C. DENR and the U.S. FWS, continued their fight about how the modeling initially should have been done.
FWS won a victory earlier this month, when a judge at the state’s Office of Administrative Hearings offered an opinion in its favor. The judge’s recommendation must now be considered by the state’s Environmental Management Commission.