US Silica has filed an application to move its blasting operations south toward Berkeley Springs, West Virginia.
The application to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is available for public viewing at the Morgan County Clerk’s Office.
Public comments must be submitted in writing to the DEP by September 30. (Mail to: Department of Environmental Protection, 47 School Street, Suite 301, Philippi, West Virginia 26416-1600. Re: Permit Number Q 104091).
After receiving the written comments, the DEP will hold a public meeting — the DEP calls it an “informal conference” — in Berkeley Springs probably sometime in early October to hear in person from local citizens. These in person comments also become part of the public record of the case. US Silica has the option to attend the informal conference to respond to citizen concerns.
After the informal conference, the director of the DEP then has 30 days to make a decision on the application. That decision may then be appealed to the DEP’s Quarry Board.
Earlier this year, the Warm Springs Watershed Association issued a statement saying it was “concerned that southward expansion of mining and quarry activities associated with extraction of sandstone poses a threat to the hydrogeologic setting of the aquifer.”
“US Silica has not provided evidence the recharge area for the aquifer will not be reduced, nor have they demonstrated that the pathways the groundwater flows to the surface will not be interrupted from deep pit excavation and blasting within the designated source water protection area,” the Watershed Association said in its statement.
“Because of the importance of the Berkeley Springs public water system to the Town of Bath and Morgan County, the Warm Springs Watershed Association urges extreme caution in granting permits that expand mining and quarrying activities within the state-designated source water protection area,” the group said.
Local resident Rebecca MacLeod said that “the warms springs are a result of the complex geology that relies on fractures, faults, and the close proximity of the sandstone and limestone layers.”
“Removal of a rock layer that is integral to the ground water discharge could interrupt or decrease the flow of the springs,” MacLeod said. “Studies indicate that the recharge area for the springs is quite large and extends into the zone that Silica wants to mine.”
“The warm springs in Berkeley Springs State Park are the reason this town was settled,” MacLeod said. “The water drew people here centuries ago and it’s still an important economic factor driving business growth today. It’s a necessary public utility we spend millions of dollars on to ensure an ample and pure supply. Most of us accept that protection of our water is crucial for keeping our community vibrant and growing.”
“I was part of the local group a few years back that helped get funds to have experts from the US Geological Survey and West Virginia University study the springs. These experts mapped and tested the groundwater and the springs. They concluded that the area under consideration for mining is part of the zone of influence for the springs, which is shaped like a three dimensional cone tilted toward the south.”
“The experts and their reports taught me a lot about our water, including things about the geology and the groundwater that supplies the warm springs. One thing I learned is, surprise, water flows along the path of least resistance.”
“When rock layers are blasted away and pits are dug deep into bedrock, new paths of least resistance are created. Since more water comes from the south, mining probably wouldn’t dry up the springs quickly, or even completely. But if a drought can reduce spring flow by half, so can a deep pit close to the source of our drinking water.”
West Virginia law gives the director of the DEP the authority to “delete certain areas from all quarrying operations.”
The law states that “there are certain areas in the state of West Virginia which are impossible to reclaim either by natural growth or by technological activity and that if quarrying is conducted in these certain areas such operations may naturally cause stream pollution, landslides, the accumulation of stagnant water, flooding, the destruction of land for agricultural purposes, the destruction of aesthetic values, the destruction of recreational areas and future use of the area and surrounding areas, thereby destroying or impairing the health and property rights of others, and in general creating hazards dangerous to life and property so as to constitute an imminent and inordinate peril to the welfare of the state, and that such areas shall not be mined by the surface-mining process.”