Edge Road Mine
Mining should not be allowed next to a heritage preserve.
On June 20, 2023, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control approved a permit application to operate a mine on the border of Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve.
We are extremely concerned about this decision and the impacts it will have on the hydrology of Lewis Ocean Bay, as well as important habitat for Venus flytraps and salamanders that require specific moisture levels to survive.
This heritage preserve has a unique assemblage of Carolina bays, which are elliptical or oval depressions unique to the East Coast, longleaf pine forests, and rich biological diversity. We are concerned that a sand mine next door could alter the hydrology of this sensitive ecosystem. If the native wetland vegetation and soils dry out, it could increase the risk of wildfire. It could also make maintaining the habitat through necessary prescribed burns more challenging.
In 2021, Soilutions LLC applied for a general permit for mining less than 5 acres of sand and clay on Edge Road. The Conservation League, SC Department of Natural Resources, neighboring landowners, and the broader conservation community expressed concerns over the impacts to Lewis Ocean Bay and the nearby residents.
The granting of this permit application would allow for Soilutions LLC to mine sand and clay on 23.2 acres of a 33-acre plot. DHEC has required a buffer around the property, silt fencing, and monitoring wells on the property, but this is not sufficient to protect the habitat and natural resources. Additional measures can and should be taken.
This is critical habitat, sensitive to disruptions such as mining. Allowing this mine will have detrimental impacts on this landscape and the surrounding community.
We continue to stay committed to protecting Lewis Ocean Bay from external threats.
In 2021, Soilutions LLC applied for a general permit for mining on Edge Road, adjacent to Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve. The Conservation League, SC Department of Natural Resources, and the broader conservation community have expressed concerns over potential changes in hydrology on Lewis Ocean Bay derived from previous and proposed mining operations. Venus flytraps and salamanders require specific moisture levels for their habitat and life cycles. Furthermore, the draining of wetlands and Carolina bays also has implications for wildfire risk and prescribed fire applications.
In October 2021, the South Carolina Environmental Law Project filed a request on behalf of the Conservation League to the Department of Health and Environmental Control for board review of the DHEC staff decision to issue the general permit for the Edge Road sand mine. General mining permits are all 5 acres or less. In its request, SCELP also indicated that DHEC’s General Coastal Zone Consistency Certification (GCZC) had expired 3 years prior, causing DHEC to rescind the permits pending renewal of the GCZC and ordering all mining operations to cease on site at Edge Road.
Despite this, Conservation League staff documented and recorded dirt being loaded into trucks in November 2021. Soilutions and DHEC responded that stockpiled sand was being trucked off site as part of a miscommunication between local DHEC staff and mine operators.
Subsequently, in February 2022 Conservation League staff captured video footage of a mini excavator prepping the Edge Road mine site for future mining activities and reported this activity to DHEC. Soilutions claimed this activity was part of a job interview for a potential new hire that was being asked to demonstrate their machine operating ability by digging a mock pool on site.
Under South Carolina Mining Act Section 48-20-20 mining is defined as “(a) the breaking of the surface soil to facilitate or accomplish the extraction or removal of ores or mineral solids for sale or processing or consumption in the regular operation of a business.” All mining has occurred without proper permits on this site to date.
In order to move forward with mining operations and instead of waiting on DHEC to finalize its GCZC, Soilutions applied for an individual mining permit to expand from the original proposed footprint of less than 5 acres to 33 acres and up to 50 feet in depth along the border of Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve.
Under the South Carolina Mining Act Section IV: Siting and Operational Criteria: “Mining operations shall not be located within environmentally sensitive habitats or where
threatened or endangered species are known to exist.” The Mining Act Section 48-20-70 states that “the department shall deny an operating permit upon finding that…(2) the operation will have undue adverse effects on wildlife or freshwater, estuarine, or marine fisheries.”
Notably, the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker has been observed by a third-party contractor on the mine site during preliminary habitat surveys before mining activities began. In addition to our many concerns about the mine’s impact on Lewis Ocean Bay and its history of noncompliance, we also share concerns raised by nearby residents. These concerns include impacts to their well water sources, dust inhalation from trucks and excavations, and heavy truck traffic on a narrow dirt access road. Section 48-20-70 also states that a permit shall be denied if “(4) the operation will constitute a substantial physical hazard to a neighboring dwelling house, school, church, hospital, commercial or industrial building, public road, or other public property.”
Concurrently, DHEC’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management’s Guidelines for Evaluation of all Projects establishes criteria for the Coastal Zone Consistency review and certification of permit applications in the eight coastal counties, including: “8. The extent and significance of negative impacts on Geographic Areas of Particular Concern (GAPCs). … 9. The extent and significance of impact on the following aspects of quality or quantity of these valuable coastal resources: i) unique natural areas; ii) public recreational lands…” Additionally, the Coastal Zone Management Program (CZMP) also requires special consideration to GAPCs, which include heritage preserves, stating: “When a project overlaps with, is adjacent to, or significantly affects a GAPC, OCRM will carefully evaluate the project based on the criteria listed as the priority of uses which specifically address each type of GAPC. A project will be prohibited if it would permanently disrupt the priority uses of the designated area. A project would be strongly discouraged or the permit conditioned if the project would interrupt, disturb or otherwise significantly impact the priority uses of the designated area.” For these reasons, we believe the permits are inconsistent with the state’s Coastal Zone Management Program.
On June 30, 2022, DHEC held a public hearing for the individual mine operating permit. In addition to much opposition from the public and conservation community, Horry County Councilman Danny Hardee also spoke in opposition. The comment period for the Individual Permit ended July 15, 2022. DHEC approved the mine on June 20, 2023.