State regulators say they have issued a water withdrawal permit for a controversial mine that's being proposed for Beaufort County.
The Division of Water resources okayed the permit on Friday to Martin Marietta Materials, so it can remove up to 12 million gallons of groundwater a day for the proposed mine.
Several groups oppose the mine,saying the future quarry operations could damage Blounts Creek when it discharges that groundwater into the creek.
The state maintains Martin Marietta will need to adhere to stringent requirements with the permit. That includes daily monitoring of water withdrawals, monthly monitoring of water levels and annual measurement and modeling from where the water is withdrawn.
Some 106 people attended a public hearing this summer on the permit. The state says based on that feedback, the company must follow up on groundwater well complaints within a specific timeline, as well as updating its map of the zone of influence every year.
The company must still get one more approval from the Division of Coastal Management, and modify its mining permit from the state Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources to reflect its capacity use and discharge permits.
The quarry will be located on 1,664 acres, and is expected to include a 649-acre open pit for mining.
Residents have appealed the initial discharge permit, and a hearing on that is expected next spring.
The war of words and scientific data that started back in 2011 continues today over the intention by Martin Marietta Materials to dispose the wastewater of its future mine that touches Beaufort and Craven Counties into Blounts Creek.
Blounts Creek in Beaufort County is a 14-mile long environmental resource that neighbors and business owners say they appreciate everyday.
Resident William Buonanno says, "Just look around it's as beautiful as you can get. Put your boat in the water, you're as relaxed as you can get."
The fear is in danger of damaging change at the hands of Martin Marietta's future quarry planned for construction on Welbourn Road near Vanceboro in both Craven and Beaufort Counties.
The mine intends -- with a recent permit approval by the Division of Water Resources -- to dump 12 million gallons of ground wastewater a day into the creek.
It's a change Pamlico-Tar River Foundation Riverkeeper Heather Deck says is a violation of the Clean Water Act -- and that a permit shouldn't have been issued. She says, "If a stream system is supposed to be somewhat natural like a swamp water can have a PH level around 4 - 4 1/2 -- and so therefore you're supposed to only permit something that mimics those natural conditions -- well they're permitting a discharge that's going to change that PH upwards of 6 to 7 which is a big change."
Deck believes that change will drive out different species of fish -- impacting tourism and other way of life.
Division of Water Resources Director Tom Reeder defends his agency's decision to issue a permit.
He says there will be some PH change -- but that they approved the permit within the act -- and says they did so with the Environmental Protection Agency satisfied.
Reeder says, "They didn't block the issuance of this permit, which they could have very easily. They didn't block the issuance of this permit which also says to me they also felt that it was not a violation of the Clean Water Act."
When it comes to these permits -- Reeder says the company applying -- in this case Martin Marietta -- supplies the scientific evidence.
He says. "They normally hire contractors or scientists or experts that go out and do all these technical analysis to answer all the questions that we have and then we review that data with them and then we come to a determination as to what the impact is going to be."
Reeder says they have also reviewed all the data provided by Deck, residents and business owners and say they just don't agree with the substantial change.
Not resting on a future court date challenging the issuing of the permit -- Deck, along with researchers at ECU, are already gathering data -- and will be ready when the water discharge begins to flow.
Deck says, "We can show that things have changed over time and we can go back again to the state if need be and say there's problems here and you need to correct them."
It's forward thinking Reeder says he applauds --pointing to what he calls reopener clauses built into the permit that Martin Marietta will have to provide impact research on around a year from when the discharge begins.
Reeder says, "Because you know maybe we aren't right -- maybe the scientific data we base this permit on -- maybe some of that was wrong or something -- so this allows us to re-open the permit down the road and change it if we find out that we are having these negative impacts that we certainly don't expect to happen but others think may happen."
Martin Marietta Materials did not respond to a request for interview -- as they have also declined to answer questions at previous public comment sessions.
Reeder says that the company still needs approval of a final permit through the Division of Water Resources that allows them to draw groundwater which could happen in the next week or two.
From there -- Reeder says the last regulatory hurdle is a consistency determination by the NC Division of Coastal Management.
We're told the court hearing concerning the discharge water permit could be in the spring of next year.