Haile Gold Mine has transferred three land parcels totaling 4,374 acres to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, creating the 3,677-acre Wateree River Heritage Preserve in Richland County and adding 698 acres to Forty-Acre Rock Heritage Preserve in Lancaster County.
The land transfers in part are to offset for impacts to wetlands and streams caused by the permitting of Haile Gold Mine in Lancaster County.
"DNR is committed to partnering with the private sector, other state and federal agencies and non-government organizations on mitigation strategies that involve landscape-scale conservation," said S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Alvin Taylor. "I am excited because these opportunities are yet another example of working together to enhance and preserve the natural resources of our state and make more lands available for public recreation. Our collective conservation efforts and successes here in South Carolina are as good as anywhere else in the nation."
"Haile Gold Mine deserves credit for this innovative and standard-setting mitigation plan," Taylor said.
Cook's Mountain and Goodwill Plantation in Richland County, respectively 1,132 and 2,545 acres, and which are adjacent properties, will be known as the Wateree River Heritage Preserve. The 698-acre Rainbow Ranch in Lancaster County will become part of Forty-Acre Rock Heritage Preserve. DNR will dedicate these lands under the S. C. Heritage Trust Act, thus protecting them forever.
All of these lands will be open for public use. The Rainbow Ranch lands will soon be accessible as part of Forty-Acre Rock Heritage Preserve. However, the new Wateree River Heritage Preserve cannot be opened until the construction of a bridge on the entrance road is completed, expected in another month. DNR will implement a broad array of public uses on all these areas that will be consistent with preserving their natural condition. Anticipated public uses include hunting, fishing, bird watching, bicycling, hiking, nature study, fishing rodeos and family fishing clinics.
All of the lands transferred to DNR are of high conservation value. Cook's Mountain is part of the COWASEE Basin, a partnership habitat protection initiative that covers 215,000 acres in the Midlands of South Carolina and includes the Congaree, Wateree and upper Santee rivers. With elevations 300 feet above the adjacent Wateree River, the site is a unique landform containing a diverse ecology and outstanding scientific, educational, aesthetic and recreational qualities. Goodwill Plantation, also in the COWASEE Basin, is an outstanding cultural and historical treasure and contains a diverse ecology and opportunities for scientific research, education and recreation.
Rainbow Ranch in Lancaster County includes more than 8,500 feet along Flat Creek, designated as critical habitat for the endangered Carolina heelsplitter mussel.
Haile Gold Mine has transferred $2.2 million to DNR to initiate sound management of the sites and to further research and management of the endangered Carolina heelsplitter. Additional annual payments will follow until Haile has met the endowment obligation of $9.4 million: $4.5 million for maintenance and management and $4.9 million dedicated to the Carolina heelsplitter. The land transfers and funding endowments fully mitigate for natural resource impacts resulting from construction and operation of the mine.
Tom McCoy of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service said, "The protection of Cook's Mountain, Rainbow Ranch, and Goodwill Plantation caps an unprecedented cooperative effort to conserve, restore and recover outstanding and imperiled natural resources in South Carolina. These properties protect important habitat for at-risk species, as well as designated critical habitat for the endangered Carolina heelsplitter mussel. Combined with the funding endowment, we will partner with DNR with vital, on-the-ground recovery efforts for imperiled species that would be extremely difficult to achieve otherwise."