Corps gives PCS qualified permit victory

Published 7:28 pm Thursday, May 7, 2009

By Staff
Decision primarily backs local draft for mine growth
Staff Writer
A Wednesday decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ was a victory for PCS Phosphate, but not absolute.
A review by the Corps’ Washington, D.C., office largely backed a decision by its Wilmington office to permit PCS Phosphate to expand its mine at Aurora by thousands of acres.
Corps officials must also hold a meeting with officials from the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service and PCS.
Walker said that meeting could result in changes to the proposed outline of the expansion, but isn’t likely to significantly alter it.
The EPA had requested the review by the Corps of Engineers’ Washington, D.C., office after deciding the Corps’ Wilmington office hadn’t paid enough attention to the EPA’s concerns.
The EPA has been relatively vocal about those concerns lately and took part in a meeting earlier this year with officials from the Corps, regulatory agencies and PCS in which it pitched a more limited expansion for the mine. The EPA raised similar issues when it asked for the extra review.
PCS has criticized the EPA for raising the concerns so late in a process that has proceeded for more than eight years.
The EPA’s concerns echo worries from environmentalists.
They argue that the mine was planning to dig up wetlands it could afford to avoid as it expanded.
Those worries were among concerns environmentalists cited earlier this year when they appealed a key state certification PCS had received for the expansion. That appeal has yet to be decided, but is unlikely to delay mine expansion in the short-term.
Company officials have maintained that existing assessments of the economics of mining or avoiding wetland areas are solid.
The permitting delays worried county officials, who went to Washington, D.C. this week to lobby federal officials and spent $50,000 in county money to hire a lobbyist. The PCS mine-and-plant complex in Aurora employs more than 1,000 people, and the company is a major part of the county’s tax base.
County Manager Paul Spruill praised the Corps’ move.
A permit for the mine is expected within a couple of weeks. After that, the EPA will have 10 days to decide if it will veto the decision.