Questions galore about Haile Gold Mine

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Hundreds attend Tuesday’s Army Corps meeting in Kershaw

By Jesef Williams

KERSHAW – How will potential activity at Kershaw’s Haile Gold Mine impact residential well use? Will nearby waterways and wildlife be negatively affected years after gold processing has concluded?

Those were the types of questions asked Tuesday, Aug. 20, during a community meeting held by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Andrew Jackson Recreation Center in Kershaw.

Hundreds of residents attended the event, which included informational displays about the mining process, a presentation from the Army Corps and a question-and-answer session at the end.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for investigating, developing and maintaining the nation’s water and related environmental resources. It is preparing what’s called an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Haile Gold Mine site.

That assessment document is required before Romarco Minerals Inc. can obtain a federal permit that allows the company to start mine construction.

A draft EIS is being finished now.

Romarco Minerals is the parent company of Haile Gold Mine Inc. 

Nuggets of information

Dr. Richard Darden, who’s managing the assessment project for the Army Corps, was the main speaker during Tuesday night’s meeting.

“The Corps is neither for, or against this project,” Darden told the crowd, which included officials with S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

More than 300 people are said to have been at the event.

Darden talked about the main components of the HGM site, which occupies more than 4,500 acres east of the town of Kershaw. Gold Mine Highway (U.S. 601) and Old Jefferson Highway (S.C. 265) are two key roads running through the site.

Plans call for the site to have eight mine pits, which are the “central focus” of the entire operation. The mine will be built around those pits. The pits, which will be open over a 12-year period, will range in depth from 110 to 840 feet, according to statistics provided by the Army Corps.

Darden said those pits will not be open all at one time, and three of them will be turned into lakes once the gold extrication is done.

Plans also include “overburden storage areas.” That’s where non-gold-containing material that is extracted from the earth will be placed.

Then, there’s the ore-processing facility (which will separate the gold from the unearthed ore) and the tailing storage facility (which will house the material that’s left after the gold is removed from the ore).

Concerns about potential impact

More than 20 people signed up Tuesday to share opinions or ask questions about Romarco’s activities. Some residents wanted details on Romarco’s mitigation plan.

The Corps said Romarco’s activity will impact approximately 120 acres of “jurisdictional, freshwater wetlands” and 26,460 linear feet of streams.

To offset harm done to wetlands in Lancaster County, the company proposes to make more than 3,000 acres in Richland County part of a nature reserve.

Its mitigation plan also calls for the preservation of about 700 acres of land in Lancaster County known as Rainbow Ranch.

Other residents asked how mining-related activities will affect people who get their water from a well. That’s a concern because Romarco will have to remove considerable groundwater in order to successfully extract gold-laden ore.

Darden said it all depends on how deep a person’s well goes. But if a well is negatively impacted, it will be Romarco’s responsibility to ensure the needed repairs or improvements are done, he said.

Resident Gary Horton shared his opinion during the meeting.

“I have issues with people making decisions who don’t even live in the county,” Horton said. “Are we going to sell the future of our children for a few bars of gold?”

While many residents expressed concern about potential environmental effects, there are others like Gordon Kennington who aren’t nearly as worried.

“I really don’t have a problem with it,” Kennington said about Romarco’s proposal. “We’re just going to have to accept it.”

Dr. Diane Garrett, president and CEO of Romarco, briefly addressed the crowd Tuesday night.

“We feel it’s a very good proposal, and a lot of good is going to come out of it,” she said.

Darden said the Corps’ task is to determine the “least damaging way” in which Romarco can proceed with the mining project. Three options have been offered. Each will be explained in detail in the draft EIS.

The options are to either allow Romarco to proceed as it has planned, to deny Romarco its federal permit or to allow Romarco to proceed with modifications.

The draft EIS will be published in March 2014, with a public hearing on that draft scheduled for April. The final EIS will be published in July.

EIS and permits

The 404 Wetlands permit is the only federal permit required for the Haile Gold Mine project.

Romarco has also filed applications for five state permits through DHEC. Those permits can’t be issued until the EIS draft is filed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

Since occupying the site, Romarco has done much exploratory drilling. Analyses of ore samples had been conducted regularly, all in an effort to see where the largest concentrations of gold may be found.

Romarco officials said the company suspended all exploratory drilling earlier this year as a cost-saving measure.

If Romarco receives all of the needed permits, as many as 500 people are expected to work at the Haile Gold Mine site during construction. 

After construction, between 250 and 270 full-time workers and 80 contractors would remain on site during normal operations. Once operating, the mills will run 24 hours a day and will only stop for periodic maintenance.

For more information about the Haile Gold Mine project and the Army Corps’ assessment, visit www.HaileGoldMineEIS.com.


Contact reporter Jesef Williams at (803) 283-1152