Residents oppose mine

Published 1:39 am Thursday, January 5, 2012

CHOCOWINITY — More than 50 people crammed into a town Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday night.
At least some of those in attendance thought the session would be a public hearing on a proposed open-pit mine in southern Beaufort County. They were mistaken, but that didn’t stop part of the meeting from turning into a forum on the mine.
Opponents of the mine indicated most attendees didn’t favor the project.
Diane Overton is a volunteer who’s helping organize the opposition. Overton said anti-mine petitions were being circulated, but she didn’t know how many signatures had been gathered as of Tuesday night.
“The only way in the world we’ll ever stop them is by force,” Overton said during the meeting, urging her listeners to call state officials and otherwise be seen and heard at local meetings.
Martin Marietta Materials has obtained a state mining permit as it seeks full permission to dig a 649-acre aggregate mine south of the Pamlico River near the Craven County-Beaufort County line. The mine would be 100 feet deep with a rock-crushing operation and other activities centered on 1,664 acres about seven miles east of U.S. Highway 17.
The company hasn’t received all of the permits it needs for every aspect of its operation, it was said at Tuesday’s meeting. It has been approved for the mining permit, said Heather Deck, riverkeeper for the nonprofit Pamlico-Tar River Foundation in Washington.
Technically, the company isn’t required to draft an environmental impact statement, but it is cycling through the permit process, and has been planning the mine for years, related Paxton Badham, vice president of land and environment for Martin Marietta Materials.
“Apparently, the public has just become aware of this, but we have been working for well more than five years with the various agencies that we must get the permits from,” Badham said Wednesday in a telephone interview from his Raleigh office. “This thing is being studied from top to bottom in about as comprehensive a fashion as anything could be done.”
Martin Marietta Materials has applied for state-federal permitting handled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Deck said.
The company is seeking a state wastewater discharge permit that, if obtained, would allow it to release 9 million gallons of wastewater discharge per day, said Deck.
The N.C. Division of Water Quality is reviewing the discharge application and may issue comments on that application by the end of this month, said Al Hodge, a supervisor in the division’s Washington office. The division will announce a public-comment period on this application, Hodge said.
The wastewater would be pumped out of the open-pit mine into clarifying or settling ponds, Deck said. From there, the water would flow into a ditch network and into two upper tributaries of Blount’s Creek, which spills into the Pamlico.
According to Deck, PTRF takes issue with potential environmental effects from the mine.
She said PTRF is aware of the possibility that close to 200 families or landowners within six to seven miles of the site will see water drawdowns exceeding 5 feet in their wells.
Other speakers aired fears about effects they said the discharge could have on aquatic wildlife.
Chocowinity Mayor Jimmy Mobley explained the town had no authority to conduct a public hearing on the mine, but he and the board agreed to allow speakers to air their grievances on the issue during the public-comments segment of Tuesday’s meeting.
“We’re all concerned,” said Mobley, who pointed to the town’s four or five groundwater wells, and approximately 1,200 water customers, as sources of worry over the mine.
The 13 speakers who commented opposed the mine.
Some of the speakers urged the audience to attend the Beaufort County commissioners’ next meeting to voice their objections.
Clerk to the Board Sharon “Jo Jo” Singleton said the county board hasn’t scheduled a public hearing on this issue, but it is allowing public comments during its next meeting.
The meeting starts at 5 p.m. Monday at the board’s meeting room, 121 W. Third St., Washington. For more information on that meeting, call the county manager’s office at 252-946-0079.
The comment period on the permit application filed by the company with the Corps of Engineers originally ran from Dec. 1 through Dec. 31. That comment period has been extended through Jan. 18, a corps spokeswoman said.
Written comments may be submitted to the Corps of Engineers’ Wilmington District office. Comments should be addressed to William Wescott, P.O. Box 1000, Washington, NC 27889.
Information on the mine may be obtained from Martin Marietta Materials by calling Badham at 919-783-4534.
Portions of this article first appeared Tuesday night on the Daily News’ website. For more detailed coverage, see Sunday’s Closer Look feature on Page 1A.
Contributing Writer Betty Mitchell Gray contributed to this article.