Mine permits on agenda

Published 12:18 am Saturday, January 21, 2012

State to conduct public hearing over open-pit mine permits

As a result of public interest in a proposed open-pit mine off U.S. Highway 17 southeast of Washington, the state will conduct a public hearing before it decides on issuing two needed permits for the project.

One local environmental group praised the N.C. Division of Water Quality for responding to public concern about the plans by Martin Marietta Materials to discharge some 9 million gallons of water a day into two tributaries of Blount’s Creek.

A division spokeswoman said Friday the state will hold the hearing in “late winter or early spring” before it reaches a decision on the company’s requests to discharge water into the creek and destroy about seven acres of wetlands in conjunction with the project.

“I know there is a lot of interest in this permit,” Susan Massengale, public information officer with the N.C. Division of Water Quality, told the Washington Daily News on Friday. “We want to make sure everyone who has an interest in the project has the opportunity to share information about it.”

No date has been set for the public hearing, but the division will announce the date, time and location at least 30 days in advance of it, she said.

The public will be given 30 days to comment in writing to the division on the company’s plans, she said.

The public hearing will be in addition to a meeting planned by Martin Marietta Materials set for 6 p.m. Jan. 31 at the Beaufort County Courthouse to answer questions about its plans.

“We’re pleased that the division has ultimately made the decision to hold a public hearing. It’s clear that there’s enough concern on the part of many citizens, including PTRF, that this issue needs further debate and information. So, we’re glad they have made that decision,” said Heather Jacobs Deck, the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation’s riverkeeper, in a telephone interview Friday.

Deck said PTRF would have a presence at the public hearing.

“I think the real important thing here, too, is for folks to really understand that the public meeting that is being held Jan. 31 by the company, while it is important and we are encouraging folks to attend to talk to them directly, that it’s just a public meeting,” Deck said. “The public hearing that’s going to be held later … that’s the regulatory hearing where if folks want to have a say on their permits and have a say to those state agencies that make those decisions, that it’s also very important that they attend this and have their comments there. We just don’t want folks to be confused that the public meeting on the 31st is in any way related to the state agency’s decision on permits.”

In order to remove water from the mine, Martin Marietta Materials has asked the state for permission to discharge groundwater and stormwater into two tributaries of Blount’s Creek. To do so, the company is required to receive a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit from the state. Through that permit, the Division of Water Quality limits the discharge of potential pollutants and requires monitoring to assure that water-quality standards in the receiving stream are protected.

Because the company’s plans will affect wetlands and man-made ditches that are under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the company must seek a permit required under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and similar certification from the Division of Water Quality.

Public hearings are not required when these permits are under review by the state, but they are conducted when public interest in a project warrants, Massengale said.

“People often bring good information to the public hearing that can be used by the division in evaluating the permit request,” she said.

In its application, Martin Marietta Materials proposes to mine marine limestone that would be crushed into rocks of various sizes to be used by the N.C. Department of Transportation in road construction and by others in residential and commercial building projects near New Bern and Washington.

The mine is planned on land that would be leased from Weyerhaeuser Co. that is part of a larger 90,000-acre pine plantation.

The project has raised concerns among environmental advocates and some local officials about its effects on groundwater wells in the area and the fish and fisheries habitat in Blount’s Creek, a tributary of the Pamlico River.

In addition to a public notice announcing the hearing, the division will list its date, time and location on its calendar of events linked from the DWQ website home page: www.ncwaterquality.org.