New permit, public hearing for mining company

Published 8:20 pm Monday, July 22, 2013

As next week’s public hearing about one hurdle of a mining company’s efforts to build a limestone quarry near the Beaufort County line approaches, another is set to clear this week.

July 30, the public is asked to voice their concerns about “drawdown,” the phenomena that occurs when a large, well-connected aquifer is tapped by a source making major withdrawals — water levels will lower within what’s known as the “drawdown zone,” potentially affecting existing private wells within the zone. The application submitted by MMA to the state for a Central Coastal Plain Capacity Use Area Water Withdrawal permit requests a withdrawal of 12 million gallons of water per day from the Castle Hayne Aquifer.

The withdrawal of that amount has yet to be approved, but according to N.C. Division of Water Quality supervisor Tom Belnick, the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit sought by Martin Marietta Aggregates to eliminate the discharge is set to go through this week. The permit will allow the mining company to dump between 9 and 12 million gallons of water per day — a mix of stormwater and water used in mine dewatering — into the headwaters of Blounts Creek.

“We’re getting the permit ready,” Belnick said. “Past Wednesday, we’ll know where we’re going with this thing.”

Residents concerned with the potential impact of so much freshwater per day into the creek and tributaries turned out in force to the NPDES hearing in March. At the time, several speakers addressed a need for MMA to study alternative ways to discharging the water into Blounts Creek a point that DWQ hearing officer Paul Rawls, passed along the recommendation that another option be given more attention.

“It is recommended that the Neuse discharge option be given every consideration by the applicant (MMA), DWQ, local citizens and others to demonstrate that a collaborative effort stemming from the public hearing process allows for proper protection of State resources while meeting the needs of business,” Rawls wrote in a later report.

There is, however, no indication DWQ went to MMA with the request, according to Pamlico-Tar River Foundation riverkeeper Heather Jacobs Deck.

“I think early on in the game either the Tar-Pam and Neuse river basins were considered,” Belnick said, adding that the Neuse river basin could still be an MMA discharge site down the road according to conversations he’s had with MMA representatives. “As the mine expands, there is a possibility of removing the discharge altogether from Blounts Creek to the Neuse River.”

As the permit is being put together, Deck and other PTRF staff are continuing to communicate with PTRF members and the public at large about the upcoming water withdrawal permit hearing.

“We’re encouraging them to sign up, letting them know the talking points — points to make when they’re in the hearing,” Deck said. “I think the biggest thing is that part of what’s suppose to happen is they (MMA) have to minimize impacts to the groundwater.”

The hearing will be held in Beaufort County Community College’s Building 8 auditorium from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. Doors open at 5 p.m. for speaker registration and sign in. To sign up to speak online, visit