Romarco Minerals had hoped to be producing gold bars from a mining site in Kershaw this year. But gaining the approval from a variety of local, state and federal agencies has slowed the process.
While company officials may lament the delay, anyone living around the historic Haile gold mine site and anyone concerned about the potential environmental impact of the operation should welcome the close scrutiny.
Romarco’s plan for the site in southeastern Lancaster County is to make it the largest gold mine east of the Mississippi River in terms of gold produced. The company expects to employ about 500 construction workers and 300 permanent workers during the lifetime of the mine over the next two decades.
The job prospects for Kershaw are promising. But gold mining also can be devastating to the environment if not carefully controlled.
Gold mining is, by nature, a messy and destructive process. Machinery digs rocks from pits up to 840 feet deep. Trucks then haul the gold-bearing rock to a mill where it is crushed and ground into a fine silt.
The silt is pumped into tanks where it is exposed to cyanide, a deadly chemical that separates the crushed gold from the crushed rock. The separated gold is refined, dried and smelted into gold bars.
But the silt and toxic chemicals are stored in waste ponds that could affect groundwater, wildlife and nearby wetlands and creeks. As a result of environmental concerns when plans for the mine surfaced in 2011, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources urged that wetlands and water quality permits not be issued until more study could be done on the Haile site.
The DNR request was sent to both the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the S.C. Department of Health and Enviromental Control, which must issue the permits. The Corps of Engineers study is still ongoing.
Before mining can begin, Romarco needs final approval from the Corps; a land use permit from Lancaster County; permits from DHEC for mine operations, air quality, solid waste disposal and stormwater; National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permits for wastewater treatment and discharge, drinking watere, mine reclamation and dam construction; and federal permits for dredging and filling of wetlands, and wetland/stream mitigation.
That’s a lot of red tape. And those eager to see the minining operation begin might say too much red tape.
But we think the oversight is justified. Romarco owns more than 8,000 acres at the Haile site, and this operation would affect wetlands and creeks in the area. If concentrations of cyanide in the tailings are too high, wildlife could be at risk.
If Romarco can meet the standards of these agencies, residents will have some assurance that the environment will be protected. But there is no need to rush the process.