The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Haile Gold Mine, Inc. is well underway and continues to make significant progress. This past year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District’s EIS project team has been collecting and evaluating data to determine the extent of impacts the project could have on the environment, including surrounding wetlands, streams, and commercial and residential wells. The District’s project team includes assistance from other federal and state agencies, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control as well as other agencies with expertise in mining, water quality, cultural resources, and wildlife.
“It is a methodical process because every aspect of the project has to be considered with regard to environmental effects, which includes use of ground water modeling,” said Dr. Richard Darden, project manager, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Hydrology modeling, or ground water modeling, consists of installing wells into the ground to determine the depth of the ground water, the direction and rate of subsurface flow, and the characteristics of the underlying rock formation that influence ground water movement. To collect all of this information, water is pumped from test wells while monitoring surrounding water levels in other area observation wells.
Once this information has been collected, computer software is used to mimic the ground water movements to predict the effects of lowering ground water levels during the excavation of proposed mining pits. This gives the EIS team a better understanding of the nature and extent of impacts the gold mine could have not just on the wetlands and streams on the property, but also the impact it could have on surrounding areas.
“One of the biggest concerns we are hearing from nearby residents is whether the water quality will be affected by this project. Hydrology modeling will help give us the answers we need to address this concern,” said Darden.
The National Historic Preservation Act requires federal agencies to identify and evaluate cultural resources at proposed project sites so the agency can make a determination of any effect the project may have on these resources. The Charleston District has been working closely with the South Carolina State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) to ensure that all cultural resources have been identified and evaluated for this project.
“There is a historic school house on the property and several archaeological sites in the area. We are working with SHPO and the applicant toward a memorandum of agreement which provides guidance on how to manage the cultural resources in the area, including what to do should a new unidentified cultural resource be uncovered during any work that may be permitted,” said Darden.
The Haile Gold Mine, Inc. project initially proposed to reopen and expand the area of open pit mining and to construct associated production facilities. The original design proposed excavating and filling approximately 39,000 linear feet of streams and approximately 160 acres of wetlands. However, this past fall, a revised project was submitted, which would reduce the proposed direct impacts to approximately 29,000 linear feet of streams and approximately 120 acres of wetlands.
According to Darden, “the Regulatory Division’s main function is to protect the nation’s water and the process put in place supports minimizing and avoiding impacts to water as much as possible. We encouraged and worked with Haile Gold Mine to reduce the impacts their project would have on the wetlands and streams. It is exciting to see the Corps’ process work, helping the applicant achieve the project purpose while also maximizing protection through design revisions. To achieve impact reductions this meaningful reinforces the importance of our process.”
The applicant was able to do this through property acquisition allowing them to reconfigure the processing facility and shift the locations of the soil stock pile areas. Since these revisions represent substantial change to the project design and proposed impacts, a new public notice will be issued in early February to describe the revisions.
The Haile Gold Mind first opened in 1827 and has operated on and off until the 1990s. While the project did require permits to mine in the 1990s, the smaller scale of the operation at that time did not require preparation of an EIS. New mining technology now makes possible the recovery of gold from ores with much lower concentrations than ever before, but this also requires excavating greater volumes of ore overall. For this reason, the project is unprecedented in SC and will be at a scale of mining never before seen in the state. It is literally this greater scale of mining that has the potential for environmental impacts to a larger area or wetlands and streams.
Haile Gold Mine first applied for a permit with the Charleston District in January 2011 to reactivate this mine, which would include opening new mine pits and building new ore storage and processing facilities.
The Corps’ determination of whether or not to issue a permit involves a public interest review which balances the favorable and detrimental impacts and reflects concerns for both the protection and use of important resources.
For more information or updates on the project, please visit http://www.hailegoldmineeis.com/.