US Silica will be seeking permission from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) to move its sandstone mine blasting operations closer to Berkeley Springs.
In an August 16 letter sent to about 60 residents in the Jimtown neighborhood in north Berkeley Springs, Pete Graham, US Silica’s plant manager, said that the company “is requesting an extension on the southern side of the existing quarry.”(WVDEP permit number WV1023691 — Q104091.)
The company plans on swapping out an unused 45.2 acres at the top of the mountain in the permit for 45.2 acres on the southern edge of the Silica property — just north of the Moose Lodge and across from the Jimtown neighborhood.
US Silica spokesman Mike Lawson said that the company will file with the WVDEP for extension within the next six months or so.
The company is required to take out a public notice in a local newspaper and local residents may request a public hearing.
If the WVDEP approves the application, the company plans on blasting in the area twice a month for the life of the mine — which Lawson estimates might be a decade or more.
US Silica has hired an engineering firm — Vibra-Tech of Frederick, Maryland — to conduct a pre-blast survey of the 60 or so homes within a 1,500 foot radius of the blasting area.
Vibra-Tech will perform a water survey on any wells, springs or cisterns located at these properties.
“This inspection will consist of a complete description of the condition of your property, using notes and photographs,” Graham wrote. “Should any changes be produced by the blasting operations — and we certainly do not anticipate that this will occur — they will then be documented.”
A separate letter from Michael Donahue, area manager for Vibra-Tech, said that inspections need to be scheduled by September 9, 2016 and completed by September 29, 2016.
“Modern blasting in the mining industry consists of loading explosive charges and detonating them in order to fracture rock in the immediate vicinity of the blast,” Donahue wrote. “This is to facilitate the production of crushed stone, or aggregates for many uses in the community. The blasts are designed to minimize vibrations and cause no adverse effects to you or your home.”
US Silica says the sand from the Berkeley Springs plant is a “99.9 percent pure, buff-white sandstone that is low in iron, making it perfect for flat glass, specialty glass, building products, ceramics, paint, fillers, extenders, pool filtration and recreational use.”
Lawson said that the company has conducted an initial environmental impact survey that found “no wetlands, no impact to animal habitat.”
“We will of course monitor the area for dust — there will be ambient air monitoring,” Lawson said.
Bert Lustig, a local citizen concerned about the recharge area to Berkeley Springs, said local residents should be vigilant about the impact of blasting on water sources.
“To the best of our knowledge, Cold Run Valley is considered the recharge area of the springs,” Lustig said. “The tube that leads from Cold Run Valley to the springs goes very deep under the mountain — several thousand feet down before it comes up again. Nobody knows where that path is. It is simple to assume it’s a straight line from the valley to the springs. But that’s not how geology works. It could be a convoluted path. So we don’t know.”