December 21, 2014

Regulators approve new gold mine near Kershaw

Map of the Haile Gold Mine site (Image: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

Map of the Haile Gold Mine site. Click for larger image (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Tuesday said it has approved a permit for a massive new gold mine operation in Lancaster County.

The Corps’ Charleston District Office released the Record of Decision and issued a permit with conditions for the proposed 4,552-acre Haile Gold Mine project near the town of Kershaw (roughly halfway between Charlotte, NC, and Florence, SC). Romarco Minerals, which owns the property, plans to reactivate and expand the existing mine into the largest of its type east of the Mississippi River.

The permit decision follows a three-year environmental study and project review which examined the predicted impact on wetlands, streams, and groundwater drawdown as mine pits are excavated and dewatered during mining. The study estimated 120 acres of wetlands and 26,460 feet of streams would be impacted by mining.

As a condition for allowing the environmental damage, the Corps agreed to let Romarco acquire 4,388 acres of land along the Lynches and Wateree River watersheds and donate their ownership to the South Carolina Heritage Trust Program. Those tracts include two in Richland County and one in Lancaster County. Several environmental groups like the Coastal Conservation League and Conservation Voters of South Carolina ended their opposition after that agreement was reached.

“Issuing the permit for the Haile Gold Mine project is the culmination of a long process,” Lt. Col. John Litz, Charleston District commander, said in a statement. “We’ve received a lot of public and agency participation along the way, and believe that helped us to make the right decision for this project by balancing the economic needs of the area with the environmental responsibility of being the nation’s environmental engineer.”

Toronto-based Romarco was pleased with the decision. “We have engaged and been transparent with the local community and all stakeholders since we arrived in South Carolina,” President and CEO Diane Garrett said in a statement. “And I want to personally thank everyone for their support of the project.  We will continue to manage and operate Haile under the highest environmental standards.”

The Corps decision on the “Section 404″ permit is final and cannot be appealed. But Romarco must still get a mining permit from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control before it can move ahead with the project.

Gold mining ended on the site in

Savannah River Site Museum opens in Aiken

 SRS Heritage Foundation

SRS Heritage Foundation

It’s a new museum committed to the heritage of the Savannah River Site (SRS) which will tell the story of the site’s role in winning the Cold War. The ribbon was cut Monday on the new Savannah River Site Museum in Aiken.

Executive Director of the SRS Heritage Foundation Walt Joseph said the museum was 10 years in the making. “It’s dedicated to preserving and explaining the history of the Savannah River Site, which has been hidden behind veils of secrecy for many years.” Joseph said.

Joseph said they had a lot of support from Aiken County, which donated the former Dibble Memorial Library for the museum. “We’ve been dreaming, planning and working together for ten years to make this happen and it’s finally coming to pass. Largely due to the support from Aiken County.” Joseph said Monday.

The Savannah River Site is a nuclear reservation on land in Aiken, Allendale and Barnwell Counties adjacent to the Savannah River. The site was built during the 1950s to refine nuclear materials for deployment in nuclear weapons. While it is owned by the U.S. Department of Energy, the management and operating contract is held by Savannah River Nuclear Solutions LLC, and the liquid waste operations contract is held by Savannah River Remediation, which is a team of companies led by URS Corp.

A major focus is cleanup activities related to work done in the past for American nuclear buildup. Currently none of the reactors on-site are operating although two of the reactor buildings are being used to consolidate and store nuclear materials. SRS is also home to the Savannah River National Laboratory and the USA’s only operating radiochemical separations facility. Its Tritium facilities are also the United States’ only source of tritium , an essential component in nuclear weapons.

The USA’s only mixed oxide fuel manufacturing plant is under construction at SRS, overseen by the National Nuclear Security Administration. When completed, the MOX facility will convert legacy weapons-grade plutonium into fuel suitable for commercial power reactors.

Future plans for the site cover a wide range of options, including host to research reactors, a reactor park for power generation, and other possible uses. The Energy Department and its corporate partners are watched by a combination of local, regional and national regulatory agencies and citizen groups.

The Savannah River Site covers 310 square miles and employs more than 10,000 people.

Harmful chemicals, bacteria in Congaree National Park water

(Courtesy: NPS)

(Courtesy: NPS)

New tests have found harmful levels of chemicals and sewage in water that flows into Congaree National Park near Columbia, according to a new report.

The State newspaper noted preliminary water studies released by the U.S. Geological Survey that found traces of birth control drugs, medicines to control diabetes, and even e.Coli bacteria in Congaree’s waterways.

The researchers outlined their findings during a water issues conference hosted by Clemson University earlier this month. The study identified leaking septic tanks and small sewage plant discharges as likely sources of the bacteria. There is no regional sewer network in the southeastern Richland County area where the national park is located.

The study found trace amounts of birth control medicine, hormones, and mood stabilizers in the water, likely from pharmaceuticals that made their way into sewage and then leaked into groundwater. The USGS researchers said even small amounts of the drugs in the water can hurt fish reproduction or make them slow to react to predators.

The amount of such chemicals were tiny, however — only reported as several parts per trillion. But the USGS worried that even microscopic levels could have a noticeable impact on the environment. The study did not examine fish populations or if the levels were having an actual effect.

Governor, attorney general ask EPA to scrap new wetlands regulations

SC Attorney Gen. Alan Wilson (File)

SC Attorney Gen. Alan Wilson (File)

State officials said Thursday they will oppose new proposed federal regulations that are being pushed as a way to protect additional smaller streams and wetlands.

Gov. Nikki Haley and state Attorney General Alan Wilson joined with governors and attorneys general in 10 other states in a joint letter Thursday asking the Environmental Protection Agency to scrap its proposed “Waters of the U.S.” rule.

The proposed rules are an attempt by the EPA to restore some protections to intermittent streams and isolated wetlands, categories which cover more than half of America’s streams. Previous protections were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court 13 years ago. But opponents worry the changes would expand the agency’s power to include previously unregulated seasonal wetlands like farm ditches or

“If the ‘Waters of the U.S.’ rule is allowed to take effect, it could have a catastrophic impact on South Carolina’s economy,” Wilson said in a statement released by his office. “Farmers would suddenly be burdened by excessive red tape. County governments would be straddled by costly regulations.  These onerous regulations would treat a simple drainage ditch the same as ‘navigable water’ such as the Mississippi River.  These proposed policies are simply bad for all South Carolinians.”

The letter was also signed by governors in Iowa, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, and Kansas, as well as attorneys general in Alabama, Georgia, North Dakota, South Dakota, and West Virginia.

But National Resources Defense Council attorney Jon Devine told The State newspaper that the EPA’s proposal is actually relatively modest. He said the agency is simply trying to restore protections that had already been in place previously.

Could SC learn from other state’s open mining

OP mineSheared off mountain tops, towering piles of rubble and deep pits make it hard to ignore Montana’s recent history of gold mining.

According to the Rock Hill Herald, dominant on the landscape, industrial-scale gold mines provided jobs and tax revenues for parts of three decades in small communities that came to depend on the economic support. But big open-pit gold mines had such an impact on the environment that Montana effectively banned new ones 16 years ago.

Now, as a Canadian corporation looks to develop an industrial-scale gold mine in South Carolina, Montana is struggling with the mess these massive operations left behind. Bankruptcies, sloppy mining practices and sometimes lax oversight created expensive and dangerous problems that other states could learn from as a new wave of gold exploration extends to the Southeast, Montana regulators say.

“We have had long and painful lessons,” said Warren McCullough, a bureau chief with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. “I would hope other states would look at that and keep that in mind.”

The mine proposed for South Carolina, which would be larger than any gold digging operation in the eastern United States, would be an open-pit mine similar to those in Montana.

Unlike underground shaft mines, open-pit gold mines are massive operations that rely on blasting huge craters in the earth’s crust to extract microscopic gold particles that are embedded.