Gold mine wins key approvals

sfretwell@thestate.comOctober 29, 2013 

A Canadian mining company has secured three environmental permits for a mega gold mine, including one that allows the corporation to release limited amounts of cyanide, arsenic, mercury and other toxins near the town of Kershaw.

Obtaining the permits, which were approved this month by state regulators, represents a milestone for Romarco Minerals in its quest to open what it says will be the largest gold mine east of the Mississippi River. Romarco’s mining plans have been slowed by environmental concerns, as well as the economy.

Romarco’s mine still is the focus of an environmental study that will ultimately determine whether the open-pit mine is dug, but company officials said Monday they were encouraged by the Department of Health and Environmental Control’s recent decisions.

“These three permits are the first of several important permits to construct and operate the Haile Gold Mine,” company president Diane Garrett said in a news release Monday. “We thank SCDHEC for their careful, detailed and knowledgeable review of our applications.”

An air pollution permit will allow the company to build a milling operation, while a dam permit allows for a tailings waste pond. A water discharge license allows for limited releases of cyanide, mercury and arsenic from mine drainage, stormwater and process water, according to an approval filed Oct. 7 by DHEC.

Cyanide, mercury and arsenic are potentially deadly wastes that can sicken people and wildlife, but Romarco has said its operation will be state-of-the-art and will not harm the environment. The company, headquartered in Toronto, plans to reopen the historic Haile Gold Mine about 20 miles north of Camden. It believes substantial deposits of gold remain that were not obtained by past mining operations, perhaps enough to generate $2 billion to $4 billion.

Details of why DHEC approved the permits were not available Monday. Despite this month’s approvals, Romarco still does not have a license to dig up and fill about 120 acres of wetlands and bury up to five miles of creeks in Lancaster County. The findings in an environmental impact statement will have a bearing on whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issues the wetlands permit.

But that study won’t be ready until next spring. The Corps also is assessing how groundwater withdrawals from the mine might affect surrounding wells.

Because the loss of wetlands and creeks is so significant, Romarco is proposing to offset the impact by buying 3,700 acres along the Wateree River in Richland County as compensation for the Lancaster County gold-digging work. The properties to be acquired, Cook’s Mountain and Goodwill Plantation, would be deeded to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources for a state nature preserve.

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