Plans to Flood Blounts Creek with Mine Wastewater Challenged
On behalf of the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation and the N.C. Coastal Federation, the Southern Environmental Law Center today challenged a state permit that would allow a proposed Martin Marietta mine to flood a popular fishing creek in eastern North Carolina with wastewater from the mine. The N.C. Division of Water Resources permitted the inundation from mining wastewater, failing to protect the waters of Blounts Creek that are vital to an abundance of fish—including red drum and herring—and empty into the Pamlico River.
“By issuing this permit, the state violated the core requirement of Clean Water Act: to protect our waters – and the numerous benefits they provide – as they exist naturally,” said Geoff Gisler, staff attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “This permit would allow Martin Marietta to dump its wastewater into creeks that simply cannot handle it, despite the availability of less damaging alternatives for handling the mine’s wastewater.”
The discharge will transform the swampy headwater habitat into a fast-flowing stream consisting primarily of mine wastewater, permanently altering the creek’s diversity of life and abundance of high quality habitat for fish.
“Blounts Creek is greatly valued by the local community and we had no choice but to intervene,” said Heather Deck, Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper, Pamlico-Tar River Foundation. “The company has other alternatives available to them that will protect the creek, not harm the local citizens, and comply with state and federal laws.”
In order to develop a 649-acre open pit mine outside Vanceboro in Beaufort County, N.C., Martin Marietta plans to pump up to 12 million gallons per day of wastewater into Blounts Creek’s headwaters.
“Pumping billions of gallons of waste water into this creek each year will make it toxic for its natural population of fish, and that’s totally inconsistent with the requirements of the federal Clean Water Act,” said Todd Miller, Executive Director, North Carolina Coastal Federation.
Martin Marietta admitted in its application that the altered creek would no longer support its existing mix of fish species and would no longer be considered swamp waters due to the increased flow, increased pH, and other changes to the creeks that would occur due to the discharge. Under federal and state law, North Carolina cannot authorize discharges that will violate water quality standards by changing the natural mix of species in a water body or by destroying uses that are protected by a supplemental classification, such as “swamp waters.”
State wildlife agencies and the Environmental Protection Agency criticized the plan in response to the draft permit.
In violation of state and federal law and despite other agencies’ criticisms, the Division of Water Quality required no significant changes to address these problems in its final permit.
About the Southern Environmental Law Center
The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of almost 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use.
About the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation
The Pamlico-Tar River Foundation was founded in 1981. It is a private, non-profit organization dedicated to monitoring, protecting, and enhancing the Tar-Pamlico River and watershed while promoting environmental justice. PTRF is a grassroots organization, supported by nearly 2,000 citizen members that help in fulfilling PTRF’s mission.