PCS Phosphate, Inc. has applied to the Army Corps of Engineers for a Clean Water Act Section 404 permit to impact and fill 2408 acres of wetlands and waters of the state for the purpose of continuing their mining operations along South Creek and the Pamlico River in eastern Beaufort County.

A public hearing regarding the Draft Environmental Impact Statement was held Dec. 14, 2006, by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Chocowinity High School. In January 2007 a meeting was held with the Corps, EPA and other agencies to discuss the economic evaluation of the identified mining alternatives.

The Pamlico-Tar River Foundation, along with the Southern Environmental Law Center, requested assistance from environmental economists from East Carolina University, Duke University and Meredith College to review the information. It was clear from this meeting that other alternatives may be presented in a meeting scheduled for March 2007. If new alternatives are placed on the table, a supplemental DEIS will be released.

PTRF has been closely involved in the agency review-team process for this permit request and has been present at all meetings since the summer of 2001. Furthermore, we have conducted an in-depth analysis of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed mine advance.

Some of the concerns of the  the Pamlico-Tar RIVERKEEPER® and PTRF are included in their joint comments below to the USACE. These were prepared specifically for the Water Quality Committee of the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission.

• The DEIS failed to demonstrate that the Applicant-Preferred alternative would not result in significant degradation to the aquatic environment and it is our belief that the AP alternative would result in significant degradation.

• The AP alternative would result in excavating greater than 38,000 linear feet of estuarine streams, including three portions of PNA designated waters draining to South Creek and the loss of 5 acres of public trust waters.

• Several named tributaries to South Creek, which would be directly or indirectly impacted via the AP alternative, are essential fish habitat for numerous species.

• There is insufficient information regarding the potential long-term heavy metal contamination via leaching from the use of the gypsum-clay blend for reclamation, which is not currently monitored. Excavated stream channels would be at some future time reclaimed and ultimately directly connected to natural downstream (some primary nursery areas and essential fish habitat) areas.

• Studies cited in the DEIS that attempt to claim that no significant degradation would occur to downstream or peripheral aquatic habitat from the mine site are inadequate. For example, the AP alternative would result in drainage basin reductions of six named tributaries to the Pamlico River and South Creek by 73 to 93 percent. To demonstrate these reductions would not result in any significant impact, the company cites a study in which previous mining activities reduced the drainage basin of one of the South Creek tributaries by 37 percent. 

• The AP alternative is not permitable under 401 certification requirements because it would involve a non-water dependent activity -- filling a salt marsh.

• It's our belief that any resulting mitigation will not replace the functions lost of the 2408 acres of contiguous wetlands and waters within the South Creek and Pamlico River watershed, especially since some portion of the mitigation will be completed outside of the South Creek sub-basin.

The deadline to submit comments to the Army Corps of Engineers has been extended to Feb. 9, 2007. For more information, including maps, photos and additional points to be made, go to the website www.ptrf.org.

Submit comments to:

• U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Wilmington District, Regulatory Division, Attn: File Number 2001-10096, P.O. Box 1890, Wilmington, NC 28402-1890.