South Carolina

Deal transfers Cook’s Mountain to state control

View from atop Richland County’s Cook’s Mountain, which is being turned into a state nature preserve
View from atop Richland County’s Cook’s Mountain, which is being turned into a state nature preserve FILE PHOTOGRAPH

People soon will be able to climb Richland County’s only “mountain” as part of a deal that will allow a gold mine company to launch operations just north of Camden.

The state of South Carolina has taken possession of prized undeveloped land in Richland and Lancaster counties, including Cook’s Mountain, that it will open to the public this summer under an agreement with Romarco Minerals Inc.

After more than five years of efforts, Romarco recently began work on the gold mine – and, this week, the company transferred Cook’s Mountain, Goodwill Plantation and Rainbow Ranch to the state Department of Natural Resources as compensation for the mine’s environmental impacts, officials said.

“We’re proud and we’re very excited about this,” DNR permitting director Bob Perry said. “It is a big deal. It is going to be a showcase heritage preserve and public-use area.”

Perry said his agency plans to open much of the property to the public by early July following maintenance work.

“We already have staff working on it,” Perry said.

Romarco, a Canadian corporation, bought the land and is deeding the 4,400-acres to the state in exchange for allowing the company to dig what’s expected to be the largest gold mine in the eastern United States. The mine, which will gouge deep holes in the land of rural Lancaster County, will affect up to 1,100 acres of wetlands. That required Romarco under federal law to protect other land as compensation.

The company at one point had offered to pay more than $23million for the property. The final sales price was not immediately available Friday.

Goodwill Plantation and Cook’s Mountain, which sit next to each other along the Wateree River in lower Richland, have been privately owned and available only for public tours by invitation. Those properties collectively make up about 3,700 acres.

Cook’s Mountain has been sought after by conservationists for years because it is one of the most unusual land formations in central South Carolina. It rises nearly 400 feet above sea level, making it one of the tallest natural spots in the flat land of lower Richland County. The mountain is undeveloped, but does include an education center and a home near the top. From that area, visitors can take in sweeping views of the Wateree River flood plain, looking into neighboring Sumter County.

Goodwill Plantation, which has 100-foot high bluffs along the Wateree River, is full of historic sites, gum and cypress swamps and clear-running streams.

Both Cook’s Mountain and Goodwill Plantation will make up the new Wateree River Heritage Preserve.

WORK UNDER WAY

Romarco announced this week that it began working on the mine in May. The company says it plans to produce the first gold by the fourth quarter of 2016. It expects to have hired 350 people by the end of this year.

Much of the work underway now involves clearing land for the project, which would include eight mining pits. One of the pits is expected to be more than 800 feet deep.

The entire project covers some 2,500 acres.

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