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Strip-mining On Horsefeathers Lane: Legal, But Should It Be?

July 6, 2017

 Culclasure Farm Tract, LLC submitted a revised application for a sand, sand/clay, and clay products mining permit to South Carolina Department of Health and Environment Control (SCDHEC) Division of Mining and Solid Waste Management in February of this year, 2017, with several amendments since that time.

 

You can find the permit application, amendments, maps, and correspondence relative to this application on SCDHEC’s Public Notice page by clicking here.

 

The following is a synopsis of the proposed operation and information about the area to be affected. It is important to note that Calhoun County’s zoning for the proposed mine operation area has no restrictions on mining.

 

The application is for the purpose of strip-mining sand, sand/clay, and clay products on approximately 68 acres located on Horsefeathers Lane between Hwy 21 and Big Beaver Creek Road in the Sandy Run area of Calhoun County.

 

The permit is requested for a period of 10 years. The mining company can request extensions on this time period.

 

Horsefeathers Lane is a county-maintained dirt road that is approximately 1 mile in length. It is connected on the western end to Hwy 21 just south of Big Beaver Creek and on the eastern end it is connected to Big Beaver Creek Road south of I-26.

 

There are approximately 18 homes on Horsefeathers Lane and off Hwy 21 in the immediate vicinity of the proposed mining operation.

 

There are two strip-mine pits proposed.

 

Pit 1 is located on the south side of Horsefeathers Lane.

The proposed maximum depth for Pit 1 is 44 feet below the adjacent grade.

Proposed mine at Pit 1 will involve pumping groundwater and a point source discharge that may require a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for sand-washing operation.

 

  • Shallow penetration into the water table is expected. Pit sumps that collect groundwater will route the water for discharge to the sediment basin/NPDES outfall by gravity and or pumping.

  • ​Pit 1 will include a sand-washing operation to remove clay fines from the sand.

    • The sand-washing station will require make-up water to be pumped from Sembly Branch. Sembly Branch is a stream that runs through the wetlands on the south side of Horsefeathers Lane. Sembly Branch empties into Big Beaver Creek on the North side of Horsefeathers Lane through a culvert under Horsefeathers Lane.

      • The application states that no wetlands will be affected, filled or altered in such a way that would require a Clean Water Act, Section 404 Dredge and Fill Permit from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The June 2017 response to SCDHEC’s request for supplemental information states that a 20’ X 40’ X 6’ pump hole is proposed to be excavated in the wetlands/Sembly Branch to gain needed make-up water for the sand-washing operation. Water would be pumped to a tailings/stormwater pond.

        • The excavate material will be hauled out and no fill will be placed in the wetlands.

        • A 6” to 8” self-priming centrifugal pump with a 30-40 horsepower motor on a floating steel barge will deliver 600-800 gallons per minute to the make-up water pond.

        • The pump will use a 6”-8” suction line with foot valve and +/- 1/4” mesh in-take screen.

        • It will require several months of pumping to provide enough water to operate the sand-washing station; up to, but not exceeding 3,000,000 gallons/month from the pump hole.

        • Stormwater will be diverted to the tailings/stormwater pond for storage.

        • Once the pond reaches maximum capacity and sand-washing operations begin, it is estimated that groundwater pumping will need to operate 5-10 hours per week.​​​​

      •  Proposal is to transport the washed sand from Pit 1 via Horsefeathers Lane to Hwy 21. Hwy 21 is a SCDOT maintained road.

Pit 2 is located on the north side of Horsefeathers Lane.

Maximum depth below adjacent grade for Pit 2 is 60 feet.

The sand/clay/gravel mined in Pit 2 will be transported over Horsefeathers Lane to the sand-washing station at Pit 1.

 

The reclamation plan indicates that the site will be restored to ponds and grasslands after mining has ceased.

 

SCDNR submitted comments and recommendations to SCDHEC regarding the permit application. They are:

 

“There are currently no records of threatened and endangered species in the immediate project area; however, there are recent records of two South Carolina Wildlife Action Plan conservation priority fish species, the Seagreen Darter and Sawcheek Darter, downstream in Big Beaver Creek. Please keep in mind that information in regards to the presence or absence of species is derived from existing databases, and DNR does not assume that it is complete. Areas not yet inventoried by DNR biologists may contain significant species or communities.

 

DNR is concerned that the proposed pumping for the sand washing operation could significantly impact the aquatic community in Sembly Brach through entrainment of fish and other organisms. In addition, the excavation of the proposed pump hole will directly impact Sembly Branch and its adjacent wetlands. DNR recommends that the following stipulations be included as conditions in the mining permit.

  • To minimize the entrainment of fish and other aquatic organisms, pump intake velocities should not exceed 0.5 feet/second.

     

  • Excavation/Construction activities must not occur in Sembly Branch or adjacent wetlands during fish spawning season from March through June due to its negative impacts on eggs and reproduction activities.”

SCDNR also recommended a number of best management practices for mining be applied during the preparation, excavation, extraction and reclamation phases of this project to insure that offsite impacts are minimized. This letter is also available here. SCDNR also stated that they have no objections to the permit being issued provided that their recommendations and concerns were adequately addressed.

 

Several residents of Horsefeathers Lane have expressed deep concerns over the proposed mining operation.  These are some of their primary concerns:

 

Traffic

Horsefeathers Lane cannot support multiple haul trucks or other heavy equipment making numerous trips per day between Hwy 21 and the mining operation or even across the road between the two pits. This oftentimes difficult-to-navigate dirt road will become even worse for the residents of Horsefeathers Lane. In many places this dirt road washes out during rains; it becomes a mudslide or washboard, and the ditches on either side erode to the point that only one vehicle can navigate at a time.

 

The portion of the road that the mine operators want to use is too narrow in some places for a small vehicle and a load hauler to pass each other in opposite directions (not wide enough for two lanes of traffic).

 

The permit states that haul trucks are expected to transport loads of sand from the mine, west down Horsefeathers Lane, and onto Hwy 21. The intersection of Horsefeathers Lane and Hwy 21 is dangerous because of diminished visibility (low hanging limbs, fog, etc…). Add the decreased visibility and the speed of drivers traveling south on Hwy 21 (speed limit is 55mph) approaching Horsefeathers Lane and a potentially dangerous situation is created. When adding load haulers that will have difficulty gaining speed going up hill toward I-26 or slowing down to turn onto Horsefeathers Lane and the dangers will increase even more as vehicles pass “in the blind.” Hwy 21 is a major through-way when traffic is backed up on I-26. More traffic will increase the likelihood of an accident.

 

Hwy 21 is under SCDOT’s jurisdiction.

 

Horsefeathers Lane is completely under the County’s control. If SCDHEC approves the permit then it will come before Calhoun County’s Planning Commission.

 

Noise pollution

Destruction of peace and tranquility. Living 24/7/365 for 10 years (the operation can apply for extensions) with the constant noise of load haulers driving up and down the road these folks live on or the heavy excavating equipment digging away constantly at the earth would be enough to drive anyone crazy. One resident of Horsefeathers Lane is literally less than 150’ on the north end and less than 50’ on the west end of the operation. If this operation goes around the clock when will he sleep? The 6’ berms will not muffle the noise at that proximity. Others may experience the noise but nothing like this resident.

 

Water safety and supply

These pits will penetrate the water table (“shallow penetration”) and the operation will be harvesting groundwater at a rate not to exceed 3,000,000 gallons/month. Knowing that it is hotly debated in many SC counties about the use of agricultural pivots that are tapped into deep wells (500’+) and the effects their use is having on residential wells the residents of Horsefeathers Lane are concerned that the operation will adversely affect the supply and/or safety of their well water.

 

Effects on environment and wildlife

There are concerns that pumping groundwater will reduce the water flow of both Sembly Branch and Big Beaver Creek and that the wetlands to some degree will begin to dry out as well. The reduction in available groundwater will not only affect vegetation but the wildlife that needs them to survive.

 

This is a complicated issue. On the one hand, you have property owners that have the legal right to use their property as they see fit and, on the other hand, you have property owners that don’t want to be adversely affected by the other’s use. Some would even maintain that current zoning doesn’t apply to Horsefeathers Lane because of residential saturation.

 

You can find the referenced documentation on SCDHEC’s Public Notice page by clicking here.

 

The Public Comment period has been extended to September 1, 2017 for the permitting of the Culclasure Farm Tract, LLC sand-mining operation.

 

An Informal Public Meeting has been scheduled for July 20, 2017. Beginning at 6:00pm, the Informal Public Meeting will be held at:

 

Sandy Run School (Gymnasium)

450 Old Swamp Road

Swansea, SC 29160

 

Everyone is encouraged to attend no matter how you stand on this issue.

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