November 24, 2014

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.

Duke Energy plans to remove some toxic coal ash from Williamston site

DukeEnergyDuke Energy Carolinas said Tuesday that it will remove toxic byproducts from an inactive pond at an Anderson County coal plant.

The State newspaper reported Tuesday that Duke officials told the state Public Service Commission they plan to remove coal ash from that closed basin at the Lee Steam Station near Williston. Company officials told commission members they plan to rebury the ash in a lined landfill. Lee’s coal-fired unit is scheduled to close next year. The utility plans to turn the site into a natural gas facility instead.

Duke had come under increased pressure from environmentalists and state regulators over its handling of the coal ash, which includes lead, arsenic, and some carcinogenic materials, along the Saluda River. Much of the material stored at another Duke coal plant in North Carolina spilled into a nearby river back in February.

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Report: SC drivers twice as likely to hit deer than rest of U.S.


Image: SCDNR

Image: SCDNR

The odds that a South Carolina driver will hit a deer in the coming year are almost twice the national average, according to a new report.

State Farm Insurance on Monday released findings from its national claims data on deer-vehicle collisions. The report calculates a South Carolina driver has a 1 out of 93 chance of hitting a deer over the next 12 months– tenth-highest among all states measured. The national average is a 1 in 169 chance. At least 175 people were killed in collisions with deer in 2012, according to the report.

State Farm spokesman Justin Tomczak said the state’s rural nature and large deer populations are likely explanations. “You have a higher concentration of deer in the southeastern United States,” Tomczak told South Carolina Radio Network. “The second thing is, there’s higher population density. If you look at the population of a South Carolina or Georgia versus Wyoming, you’ve got a lot more people here.”

West Virginia topped the list at 1 in 39 odds. Hawaii drivers are least likely to hit a deer, at more than 10,200-to-1 chances.

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Fish kill in Lake Hartwell blamed on efforts to fight algae

Lake Hartwell (SCDNR)

Lake Hartwell (SCDNR)

State officials now say that treatments used to kill algae in order to improve Anderson County’s drinking water may have caused the deaths of thousands of fish in Lake Hartwell.

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources told the Anderson Independent-Mail that it’s investigating the fish kill. But a Clemson researcher said the evidence seems to indicate the fish became trapped when crews used algaecides to kill the blooms blamed for the moldy taste and odor of Anderson Regional Water Systems water.  Crews from the environmental company Synterra had applied the hydrogen peroxide treatment and copper-based algaecide to more than 160 acres of the lake last week.

Clemson aquatic ecology professor John Rodgers said most of the dead fish were shad and other small baitfish, along with a few carp. Rodgers said the crews had used an airboat to stir up the water and chase fish out of coves before applying the algaecide. However, he added that it appeared the dead fish had hidden under manmade docks and became trapped once the chemicals were in the water.

“If fish are holding on structures… essentially using the structures as cover and refusing to move… those are the ones that get trapped,” Rodgers told South Carolina Radio Network. He noted that few fish were found in coves that did not have docks or other structures.

Anderson Regional Water System first alerted the public about the kill in a statement earlier this week, saying “Fish are typically safe during algaecide treatments and are generally not as sensitive as the targeted algae. Extreme care was taken to apply the algaecides directly to the algae on the lake bottom and to avoid contacting fish.” The utility insisted the chemical treatments were too low in concentration to be a threat to humans.

DNR Capt. Bob McCullough told the Independent Mail that an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 fish were killed by the algaecide. He said his agency and DHEC are investigating how much chemicals were put into the lake.

ARWS has been trying to reduce algae blooms in Lake Hartwell after residents complained the water is nearly undrinkable due to bad taste and smell. The agency is not commenting beyond the statement issued this week, which said Synterra had gotten the necessary permits and the algaecide followed manufacturer guidelines.

A Corps of Engineers spokesman told the Independent-Mail that the overall impact of the fish kill was likely small, as millions of shad are estimated to live in the lake.

Rodgers said he believes the kill was a one-time event, as any future algaecide use would be on a much lower scale — preventing new algae growth rather than killing existing blooms.


Prosecutors: Raptors killed in Jasper County to help quail hunts

Red-Tailed Hawk (Image: SCDNR)

Red-Tailed Hawk (Image: SCDNR)

A Jasper County hunting preserve has agreed to pay a quarter-million dollars after three of its employees were sentenced for illegally trapping and killing more than 30 federally-protected raptors.

Federal prosecutors announced Friday that the MacKay Point Plantation in Yemassee would pay $250,000 in restitution to several animal charities in the area. The announcement came as 8,000-acre preserve’s general manager 59-year-old William Martin and two other employees pleaded guilty to killing the birds of prey in order to reduce predators for the site’s annual quail hunts.

“Today’s sentence sends a strong message to unscrupulous hunters and landowners who think they are above the law,” U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said in a statement, adding that killing birds of prey to improve quail hunts has become a “widespread” problem in the Southeast.

Prosecutors say Martin, 54-year-Keith Gebhardt, and 63-year-old Mark Argetsinger were each sentenced to six months probation, community service, and fine. All three will also be banned from trapping animals for  year. Argetsinger is a Beaufort native, while Martin and Gebhardt live in Yemassee.

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