Mine needs more digging

Published 12:31 am Thursday, February 2, 2012

Some 80 people gathered in the Beaufort County Courthouse on Tuesday night to learn more about an open-pit mine proposed for southern Beaufort County.

While officials with the company behind the project and state environmental regulators told the crowd that more work needs to be done before the quarry is given the go-ahead, most of those at the meeting continued to say they are worried about its effects on Blount’s Creek and those who live nearby.

“The permitting process has just started. We have a lot of questions to ask,” said Al Hodge, a supervisor with the N.C. Division of Water Quality in the agency’s Washington regional office during a question-and-answer session at the meeting.

“Right now, we haven’t challenged them to do more. We are going to ask them to do more.”

This week, Hodge said, he plans to give Martin Marietta Materials a list of questions intended to probe for information about the project’s effects on the creek and the fish and aquatic vegetation found there.

The division will develop a draft permit for the project only after it is satisfied with the information presented by Martin Marietta Materials and the public comments in writing and at a public hearing later this year on that draft, he said.

“We can put whatever we deem necessary in the permit,” he said, adding, “Nobody is allowed to degrade those waters.”

Martin Marietta Materials sponsored the three-hour meeting. It included presentations by company officials and consultants for the company who had conducted environmental studies for the project.

Others attending the meeting asked questions and expressed concerns about the project.

Martin Marietta Materials has sought permission from various state and federal regulators 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 others in residential and commercial building projects near New Bern and Washington.

The mine, if the permits for its operation are approved, would be in operation for about 50 years. The mine would be similar to the Clarks Quarry operated by Martin Marietta Materials near New Bern and four other mining operations owned by the company in eastern North Carolina.

“We do this kind of thing on a pretty large scale,” said Paxton Badham, vice president of land and environment for Martin Marietta Materials in opening remarks at the meeting. “We’re not going to come into this county, make a mess and leave.”

The mine and its associated stone-crushing operation would add about $25 million to the county’s tax base from equipment used to mine, crush and transport the stone and about 20 local jobs with a payroll of about $1 million to $1.5 million, Badham said.

“The best benefit of having a quarry up here is that you have a local supply of stone,” he said. “Every school, every road … will be cheaper if you have a local supply of crushed stone.”

Despite these economic benefits, he said, if Martin Marietta Materials determines the proposed quarry would not be safe, “that’s the end of it.”

While the proposed mine will destroy about seven acres of wetlands, most of those attending Tuesday’s meeting were concerned about the company’s plans to pump some 9 million to 12 million gallons of water a day from the Castle-Hayne Aquifer to drain water from the mine into two tributaries of Blount’s Creek.

Blount’s Creek resident Sammy Deans has concerns about a possible rise in the water level of the creek as a result of the discharged water flowing into the creek, especially during times of bad weather, like many area residents experienced during Hurricane Irene.

Wilmar resident Diane Overton said she is concerned about the effects of the noise created by stone-crushing operations on the area’s wildlife and people who live nearby.

“You’ve got all the power, and we’re just a poor county,” Overton said. “You need to study all these effects you’re going to have on a poor community.”

Richard Spruill, a Greenville consultant hired by Martin Marietta Materials to study groundwater in the proposed mine area, said the company is studying alternatives to dumping water in the creek’s headwaters. He said discussions are under way with three public water suppliers — including Greenville, Eastern Pines and Beaufort County —to possibly use the water that is taken from the aquifer to supply drinking water. Some characteristics of that water may make it more expensive to treat, he said.

Another environmental consultant hired by Martin Marietta Materials to study the effects of the project on wetlands near the proposed mine and the headwaters of Blount’s Creek told the crowd that the headwaters of the creek appeared to have the capacity to handle the expected discharge of 9 million to 12 million gallons a day.

“We can put some additional water into it,” said Chad Evenhouse, a senior environmental professional with Kimley-Horn and Associates in Cary. “There is a threshold to what this channel can handle, but we believe it can handle a greater flow.

That flow has a lot of places to go within that floodplain.”

Evenhouse said there is a lot more that the consultants need to study about the project.

“What we do need to do is look more closely at the zone of influence,” he said.