Sentiments ran strong against a proposed sand mine north of Gaston Tuesday night as residents challenged state regulators to protect them.
"A sand pit is a bad neighbor," Heather Hills subdivision resident Bill Rodriguez told environmental officials. "We ask you to turn them down."
About 90 residents, gathered at Pine Ridge Middle School cafeteria, applauded.
This was the second contentious meeting in 18 months against a proposal by a widely known Lexington County family to dig a mine that would reach 120 feet deep.
Dwight and Karson Corley plan to dig the mine on 163 acres in a quiet, rural community dotted with private ponds.
Charles Sellers' family owns two ponds near the proposed mine. The 28-year-old captured the crowd's passion when he challenged officials with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, who explained the limits of their regulatory authority in dealing with truck traffic while keeping mine runoff from hurting nearby properties.
"I see eight to 10 people hiding behind rules," Sellers said. "We get to deal with those problems for the next 20 years. You are not talking to cardboard cutouts. You're saying you're going to protect us. Do your jobs."
DHEC geologist Marianna DePratter assured the crowd the permit for the mine has not been decided.
"We're evaluating," DePratter said. "Nothing's been approved."
Residents questioned DHEC's science as well as officials' empathy for their neighborhood. Some critics are suspicious that a white clay called kaolin might kill plant life or damage human lungs.
Environmental officials assured them they are carefully reviewing the permit application. But they would not say when a decision will be made.
The two-hour meeting was intended to inform the community about changes the Corleys had been asked to make in order to win a permit.
The key changes are to enlarge an on-site storm water basin by 50 percent and to move an overflow pipe so that it would drain into wetlands on the northeast side of the mine.
The Corleys did not attend Tuesday night's meeting, but developer Dwight Corley said in an interview earlier in the day that he believes his company, 2 COR, has made the necessary changes for DHEC to grant an operating permit.
But Corley, whose family is in the timber and landfill business, said he is unsure whether the changes will placate neighbors.
"I don't know they are going to be satisfied," said Corley, whose family has been in the lumber business for years. "I didn't know it would be such an uproar. We don't want to harm anybody."
DHEC's storm water division appears close to approving its part of the required permits.
"I think we're pretty much ready to do it," DHEC's Jeff deBessonet said Monday. "I think we've gotten everything we need pending something we hear at (Tuesday's) hearing."
He oversees storm water permits at the state agency.
His counterparts who are overseeing the mining permit are not as close to a final decision.
"We're still working with them (the developers) to refine the design," said project manager Ed Haigler.
The mine would be about two miles northeast of the town of Gaston. An estimated 250 people live in Heather Hills, an adjacent subdivision, and Big Country Mobile Home Park.
The area north of the proposed mine has a chain of several private ponds. Critics worry the mine could contaminate the ponds or Tom's Branch, a creek that eventually empties into the Congaree River.
The changes DHEC announced at Tuesday's meeting call for a 6.6-acre basin capable of holding 15.7 million gallons, said Randy Thompson, DHEC's storm water project manager for the proposed mine. The new design also requires that the basin hold storm water runoff from a 6 1/2-inch downpour in a 24-hour period.
The earlier design was for a 4.5-acre basin that held 10.5 million gallons.
The overflow pipe, which would be 2 feet in diameter, is to be moved so that it would drain onto private properties that have "waters of the state." Those are bodies of water over which the state has jurisdiction. The prior site on the northwest side of the property would not have drained into an area that is under state purview.
The Corleys said there is a market for sand in the construction business. The mine would provide income from the land, which eventually might become a residential development, Dwight Corley said.
If DHEC staffers approve the permits, residents would have 15 days to appeal to the agency's board and, later, to the courts.
Some opponents have hired attorneys and have discussed filing a lawsuit to block the plan.