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PCS Phosphate awaits corps’ environmental study

By Staff
Officials confident decision will come in ‘adequate time frame’
Staff Writer
March has come and gone, and the environmental study PCS Phosphate needs to obtain a permit to expand its Aurora mine has yet to be published.
That document, prepared by the Army Corps of Engineers, was expected to be released sometime at the end of March, according to corps officials handling the project.
PCS Phosphate representatives met with corps officers March 20 to discuss the progress of the environmental impact study being finalized by the corps. The meeting included Tom Regan, president of PCS Phosphate, and Col. John Pulliam, commander of the corps’ Wilmington regional office.
Based on that meeting, Ross Smith, director of environmental affairs for PCS Phosphate, said he was confident the corps would release the study within an “adequate time frame” that would allow the company to transition its mining operations smoothly to new areas.
Walker and other corps officers had indicated the draft environmental impact statement would be completed by the end of March. Walker also indicated the final decision on where PCS Phosphate will be allowed to mine is expected sometime in May. Walker could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Meeting with Sen. Richard Burr in February, Smith told North Carolina’s junior senator that any delays in the permitting process could spell financial troubles for PCS Phosphate, Beaufort County’s largest employer.
PCS Phosphate is also the biggest user of the state port facilities at Morehead City. Based on a study conducted by East Carolina University, PCS Phosphate has an annual payroll of $64 million and a regional economic impact of $800 million.
The environmental study in question deals with two alternative footprints on three tracts adjacent to the present mine, dubbed alternatives “L’ and “M.”
Alternative “L” follows a boundary on land directly east of the existing mine, where company officials contend the phosphate deposits are richest, but that alternative has less acreage for mining than the company wants. Both alternatives also include mining permits for an area south of N.C. Highway 33 and an area southwest of the mine. Alternative “M” would allow the company to mine larger areas on each of the three tracts, but those mining areas are smaller than the overall acreage the company wants to mine.
PCS Phosphate has maintained that alternate “L” is not cost-effective because of its restrictive boundaries that zig-zag around creeks and headwaters adjacent to South Creek.
According to Smith and the corps’ latest study, neither of the new alternatives will affect land protected under the Coastal Area Management Act.