Proposed Martin Marietta Mine in Beaufort County

Background

Martin Marietta Materials, Inc will be developing a new 50-year open pit marine limestone mine in southern Beaufort County, east of Vanceboro, within the Blounts Creek watershed. The company will impact 6.69 acres of wetlands and 11 miles of jurisdictional waters. Up to 12 million gallons per day of Castle Hayne groundwater and stormwater will be pumped from the open mine pit and discharged into 2 locations in upper Blounts Creek. The estimated drawdown (or cone of depression) of the Castle Hayne aquifer (Beaufort County’s drinking water supply) is at least 5 feet for up to 6-7 miles, impacting as many as 195 wells belonging to local families and landowners. The mine is located within the cone of depression of the Potash Aurora phosphate mine.

In September, 2013 staff from PTRF and the Southern Environmental Law Center announced the legal challenge of the wastewater discharge permit issued to Martin Marietta Materials. The N.C. Division of Water Resources permitted the inundation from mining wastewater, failing to protect the waters of Blounts Creek that are vital to an abundance of fish – including red drum and herring- and empty into the Pamlico River.

In order to develop a 649-acre open pit mine, the company plans to pump up to 12 million gallons per day of wastewater into Blounts Creek’s headwaters. State wildlife agencies and the EPA critized the plan.

April 22, 2015 Update

On Monday, April 20th, PTRF filed an appeal to a March ruling by the Administrative Law Judge. The court ruling would allow the proposed mine to discharge up to 12 million gallons per day of wastewater into upper Blounts Creek. The ruling also eliminates teh rights of American citizens to protect their use and enjoyment of the clean waters. The appeal filed in Beaufort County Superior Court by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Sound Rivers (formerly PTRF) and the N.C. Coastal Federation seeks to protect the creek and restore citizens’ right to enforce the law when the state government fails to do so.

On March 20, Administrative Judge Phil Berger Jr. ruled that downstream North CArolina residents and businesses oculd not challenge the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ permit authorizing the creek’s destruction. Although it defended teh permit, DENR did not take a position on our organizations right to challenge the permit in the admininstrative court.

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January 5, 2015 Update

The attorneys at the Southern Environmental Law Center have been extremely busy over the past 2 months, working on our behalf. They have filed motions and legal briefs in support of our efforts to protect the Creek. There is one more round of filings scheduled for January 12, 2015.

Most importantly, we want you to know that the first opportunity for the case to be heard in front of a judge will be the week of January 26, 2015 in Raleigh. We don’t yet know the exact day and time of the hearing, and will get word out quickly to all of you so anyone who is able to attend can do so.

This first proceeding is to hear requests for summary judgment from both sides, and will not deal with issues that require live testimony from witnesses.   A hearing to hear testimony is anticipated for March unless summary judgement is awarded as a result of the upcoming hearing

October 10, 2014 Update

PTRF’s and the NC Coastal Federation’s (NCCF) legal challenge of the wastewater discharge permit issued to Martin Marietta Mining is moving forward. The temporary stay in the case has ended. PTRF and the NCCF agreed to the stay in order for the parties to discuss a possible settlement.  We were not able to reach any agreement with the company that promised long-term protections for the Creek, so the legal case now moves forward.

Our attorneys from the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) are expecting a hearing on summary judgment in January with an evidentiary hearing in March.  The summary judgment hearing will deal with issues in the case that do not require live testimony from witnesses.  The evidentiary hearing will be a trial-like hearing where witnesses from each side will be asked to testify in front of the judge.

Please note, it is quite possible Martin Marietta Materials will initiate work at the mine site while the case is proceeding.  This is allowable since our legal challenge does not automatically stay the permit during the proceedings.  The company has not stated when they anticipate work to begin.

June 20, 2014 Update

Depositons have been completed for the legal case challenging the state’s issuance of an NPDES dishcarge permit for Martin Marietta Materials. A hearing is currently scheduled for October 2014.

Expert Reports for PTRF by Dr. Anthony Overton, click here.

Expert Reports for MMM, click here.

November 2013 Update

As many of you are already aware, the Division of Water Resources (DWR) issued the water use permit that allows Martin Marietta Materials to extract up to 12 million gallons per day of groundwater. The issuance of the permit came as no surprise to PTRF.

While PTRF asked for denial of the permit, we also included strong comments to improve the permit and provide better protection for adjacent landowners and private water wells. We were pleased to see our recommendations incorporated into the permit that requires specific timelines DWR and the company must follow should a problem arise with a local well. If you wish to review the permit and the public hearing officer’s report please click here.

Final Hurdle?

PTRF is still trying to confirm from the Division of Air Quality whether or not MMM needs an air permit and, if so, have they applied for it. We believe they may need an air permit and have found nothing to date on the State’s permit tracking website to suggest that they have received it. We’ll let you know as soon as we know!

Legal Case Update

In September, the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of PTRF and the North Carolina Coastal Federation legally challenged the wastewater discharge permit. Timelines for legal cases are always subject to change, but at this point we will likely be in front of a judge for a hearing in May of 2014. In the meantime we are collecting information from the state and from MMM and will be going through legal depositions after the first of the year.

Continued Water Monitoring

Thanks to continued assistance from ECU researchers and students and one very dedicated volunteer, we are still monitoring the current conditions of Blounts Creek in two locations as well as water quality surveys several times a year. The survey is conducted on the Creek from just above Herring Run to the mouth of Bay by trailing a water quality meter behind our boat and taking measurements every one minute. We are able to track precisely the changes in oxygen, sediment, salinity and temperature down the extent of the creek using GPS to plot the locations.

Well Registry

If you believe that your well may be influenced by the mine and water withdrawal, I would encourage you to register your well with DWR as this may help the process should your well be impacted.  DWR may be able to determine prior to the water withdrawal beginning whether or not your well is likely to be affected. To register your well, click here (DWR’s website).

Thankful

And finally a few words as we enter the new year. PTRF is thankful for the many individuals who have spoken passionately about what clean water means to them. We are thankful for the hundreds who have written the state agencies and their elected officials about why Blounts Creek and our coastal streams are special places worthly of protection. We are thankful for your continued support and commitment as we work together to protect this creek.

Press Release – September, 2013

 

Plans to Flood Blounts Creek with Mine Wastewater Challenged

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.— On behalf of the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation and the N.C. Coastal Federation, the Southern Environmental Law Center today challenged a state permit that would allow a proposed Martin Marietta mine to flood a popular fishing creek in eastern North Carolina with wastewater from the mine.  The N.C. Division of Water Resources permitted the inundation from mining wastewater, failing to protect the waters of Blounts Creek that are vital to an abundance of fish—including red drum and herring—and empty into the Pamlico River.

“By issuing this permit, the state violated the core requirement of Clean Water Act:  to protect our waters – and the numerous benefits they provide – as they exist naturally,” said Geoff Gisler, staff attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “This permit would allow Martin Marietta to dump its wastewater into creeks that simply cannot handle it, despite the availability of less damaging alternatives for handling the mine’s wastewater.”

The discharge will transform the swampy headwater habitat into a fast-flowing stream consisting primarily of mine wastewater, permanently altering the creek’s diversity of life and abundance of high quality habitat for fish.

“Blounts Creek is greatly valued by the local community and we had no choice but to intervene,” said Heather Deck, Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper, Pamlico-Tar River Foundation.  “The company has other alternatives available to them that will protect the creek, not harm the local citizens, and comply with state and federal laws.”

In order to develop a 649-acre open pit mine outside Vanceboro in Beaufort County, N.C., Martin Marietta plans to pump up to 12 million gallons per day of wastewater into Blounts Creek’s headwaters.

“Pumping billions of gallons of waste water into this creek each year will make it toxic for its natural population of fish, and that’s totally inconsistent with the requirements of the federal Clean Water Act,” said Todd Miller, Executive Director, North Carolina Coastal Federation.

Martin Marietta admitted in its application that the altered creek would no longer support its existing mix of fish species and would no longer be considered swamp waters due to the increased flow, increased pH, and other changes to the creeks that would occur due to the discharge.  Under federal and state law, North Carolina cannot authorize discharges that will violate water quality standards by changing the natural mix of species in a water body or by destroying uses that are protected by a supplemental classification, such as “swamp waters.”

State wildlife agencies and the Environmental Protection Agency criticized the plan in response to the draft permit.

In violation of state and federal law and despite other agencies’ criticisms, the Division of Water Quality required no significant changes to address these problems in its final permit.

Link for a copy of the petition is here.

July, 2013

Division of Water Quality issued a public notice that the NPDES Discharge permit has been issued for the mine. For a copy of the permit and other related materials, please click here.

 

May, 2013

May 23, 2013 Update – PTRF received a copy of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) letter to NC Division

of Water Quality regarding the proposed NPDES, or wastewater discharge permit. You’ll find a link below to download the letter.

 

EPA LETTER 

 

Below is a summary of EPA’s comments:

  • EPA has determined that the draft permit does not ensure compliance with water quality standards.
  • Federal regulations require a “reasonable potential analysis” to determine if the receiving waters, in this case Blounts Creek, would be able to handle the discharge without violating water quality standards (in other words, without causing harm to the stream system, determined by a set of numeric and narrative standards).
  • EPA has asked DWQ to go back and analyze the discharge again, especially for iron, turbidity (water clarity or muddiness of the water) and pH.
  • Recommends that effluent limitations (what the company can legally discharge-example: levels of iron, sediment, or pH range) are as stringent as necessary to meet the water quality standards.
  • EPA would like the permit to include whole effluent toxicity limits. Testing for this replicates the actual environmental exposure of aquatic life to toxic pollutants in a wastewater effluent.
  • EPA should re-evaluate the draft limit for pH and may need to revise the limit (to more closely reflect the natural, acidic characteristics of the stream).
  • EPA has also requested an additional 15 days of review of any revised draft permit as well as DWQ’s response to EPA’s comments.

DWQ will now assess and address EPA’s comments. PTRF remains hopeful and will be sure to keep you up-to-date as things progress. 

401 Issued

 

In other news, as most of you may be aware, the NC Division of Water Quality (DWQ) issued one of the two permits to Martin Marietta Materials. The permit issued, a 401 Water Quality Certification, permits the direct impact of the mine on wetlands and waters. The Division also released the hearing officer’s report from the public hearing held in March.

 

The remaining permit for the company to move forward is the NPDES permit to allow for the wastewater discharge. We have learned that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requested the full 90 days of review allowed to them. NC DWQ is waiting EPA’s comments before deciding on the NPDES permit. Both the NC Division of Marine Fisheries and NC Wildlife Resource Commission objected to the draft NPDES permit that would allow up to 12 million gallons per day of discharge to upper Blounts Creek.

 

And finally, the Coastal Review Online reported on this issue on May 17th. Read the article here.

 

April, 2013- PTRF and SELC NPDES Comments

 

The Southern Environmental Law Center submitted comments today on PTRF’s behalf regarding the proposed Martin Marietta Materials limestone mine and wastewater discharge to Blounts Creek. If you haven’t submitted comments to date, this will be your last opportunity. Or if you have more to say, you may submit additional comments. PTRF will also be sending in additional comments tomorrow regarding impacts to fisheries, highlighting the most recent data from the NC Wildlife Resource Commission finding river herring in upper Blounts Creek. Dr. Eban Bean, ECU will also be submitting his water quality monitoring report tomorrow. We will post those documents to our website as soon as we complete them.

Keep informed by visiting our website. Thank you all for standing up for Blounts Creek!

Comments by SELC can be found here.