Good science: Public asked to weigh in on proposed pit mine

Published 10:09 pm Saturday, March 9, 2013

A public hearing is scheduled for March 14, an opportunity for people to speak for or against a pit-mine proposed for an area off Wellbourn Road near Vanceboro. While the proximity of the mine is of little concern to most Beaufort County residents, the by-product of the mining process — up to 9 million gallons of water per day — is. The water will be discharged, via 14,000 linear feet of ditches, from the mine site to the headwaters of Blounts Creek.
Thursday’s hearing, called by the North Carolina Division of Water Quality, will address two separate issues (and permits): wetland impacts and treated wastewater discharge. A National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit from DWQ will clear the way for the discharge of the groundwater and stormwater used to extract crushed limestone from the mine. Though studies by CZR Incorporated, an environmental consulting firm, have determined that an influx of 9 MGD would have no detrimental impact — on the aquatic habitat and species, flood elevations and stream stability — on Blounts Creek and its headwaters, some believe the proposal, as well as alternatives to the removal of wastewater from the mine, needs more study.
According to Amy Adams, DWQ’s regional office supervisor for surface water protection section, the permitting process is designed to make sure the discharges don’t harm surface waters and part of that process is to ask the public their thoughts on the matter.
“In order to evaluate a permit, we need the public to comment. If there is a concern that a group may have that we have not thought of or addressed — we can say, ‘They’re right; this particular topic or concern needs more examination before we issue the permit,’” Adams said. “This is what government was meant to do: to provide a voice for the public.”
The issue has triggered some residents to band together and bring their concerns and petition signatures to officials. Of particular concern to those in opposition to the amount of freshwater to be discharged, is that the freshwater will raise the pH of the brackish water, potentially harming aquatic life in an area designated as a Primary Nursery Area by the state.
According to the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries website, Primary Nursery Areas are shallow with soft, muddy bottoms, have low salinity, an abundance of food and are surrounded by marshes and other wetland vegetation that provide protection for the larvae and fragile juveniles of many species — an accurate description of the Pamlico and its many tributaries.
But the potential loss of the juveniles of certain species could have a far-reaching impact on North Carolina’s $1.2 billion commercial fishing industry.
CZR’s study maintains an increase in pH might provide an optimal environment for many species and suggests the discharged freshwater could create a more suitable nursery habitat for acidic-pH intolerant species like striped bass and shad.
“There is a difference in saying there’s no impact and there would not be a detrimental impact,” Adams said. “(CZR’s) samplings and studies have shown there would be no detrimental impact.”
Adams said that the issuance of a NPDES permit is based on fact: regulations versus recommendations by CZR, which DWQ picks apart to determine whether good scientific protocols were used — whether it’s “good science” overall.
Thursday’s hearing represents the public’s opportunity to voice objections and “get on the record,” Adams said.
The hearing is set for 7 p.m. at the Beaufort County Community College Building 8 auditorium. Doors will open at 6 p.m. for speaker registration and signup. Written comments will be accepted at the hearing and may also be mailed to Cyndi Karoly, N.C. Division of Water Quality, Wetlands and Stormwater Branch, 1650 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1650, or to