Proposed sand mine in Wayne County could pump up to 11.5 million gallons of water a day

By David Pendered

A proposed surface mine in Wayne County, near Georgia’s coast, will be allowed to withdraw up to 11.5 million gallons of water a day from the Altamaha River basin, according to draft permits announced June 23 by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

altamaha river, wayne county

Fish camp houses appear along sections of the Altamaha River in Wayne County. The Chemours Co. has received draft permission from Georgia to pump up to 11.5 million gallons a day from the river basin. Credit: penholoway polka via philip-butler.com

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division has issued three draft permits to the Chemours Co., which DuPont spun off in 2015. The public comment period ends July 24. A public hearing may be called if EPD’s director finds enough public interest, according to the draft permits.

This proposed mine is advancing less than three months after Republic Service announced it was abandoning plans to haul coal ash into Wayne County and dump it in the company’s landfill near Jesup. Area residents had waged a vigorous campaign against the proposal to use their county as a dump for a hazardous byproduct of coal-fired power plants.

An economic impact study of the proposed sand mine was conducted in 2014 by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia.

The study determined the 60 fulltime jobs would be paid about $69,000 a year, including a 35 percent benefits factor. The total payroll for the 60 jobs would be about $4.2 million, including the benefits factor, in 2019, the planned first year of operation.

Chemours announced June 7 that it now is ranked 482 on the Fortune 500 list of the nation’s largest corporations. Chermours reported $5.5 billion in revenues in 2016.

Chemours portrays its mining process in Wayne County as minimally intrusive. The landowners will harvest timber off the land. Once the mining process is complete, the land is to be restored to its current contour and planted with grasses and trees.

staurolite

Staurolite is one of three minerals the Chemours Co. wants to mine in Wayne County. Staurolite is used to make Portland cement, to supply alumina and iron, and as an abrasive in sandblasting material. Credit: dep.state.fl.us

The location and extent of the proposed mine are not identified on the website Chemours created for the Wayne County mine. Wayne County tax records indicate that neither DuPont nor Chemours owns land in the county. The identity of the landowner and terms of the deal are not readily available.

Here’s how Chemours describes the mining process:

  • A foot of topsoil will be scraped off and retained for the restoration process;
  • The exposed sand will be dug to an average depth of 15 feet;
  • The three minerals Chemours wants to extract will be removed from the sand through a gravity process;
  • The ores will be hauled by an unspecified method about 125 miles south to a Chemours processing facility near Starkely, Fla. (where DuPont started extracting minerals in 1949);
  • The site will be contoured, the topsoil will be replaced, grasses and trees will be planted, erosion control measures will be placed and the site will be monitored for three years to ensure it recovers as a forest and home for wildlife.
wayne county mine, labor

The proposed sand mine in Wayne County would employ 60 fulltime employees paying an average of $69,000 a year including a 35 percent benefits factor, according to information DuPont provided before it spun off a unit that became the Chemours Co. Credit: Carl Vinson Institute of Government

Chemours intends to mine for three mineral ores – titanium, zircon and staurolite. The ores are used in industrial applications. Saurolite, for instance, is a valued abrasive used in sandblasting. Titanium is used in coatings of buildings, vehicles and aerospace vehicles, plastics, laminates and paper, according to Chemours.

The EPD has issued draft permits for three separate operations. Here’s the language from the draft permits:

  • A daily maximum of 7.4 million gallons a day, with a monthly average of 7.4 MGD, from, “the Amelia A, Amelia B North, & Amelia B South Process Water Ponds (3) in the Altamaha River Basin for the purpose of supplying process water to the Amelia A, Amelia B North, & Amelia B South Mobile Concentrator Plants (3) for mineral sands processing operations in Wayne County.”;
  • A daily maximum of 3.5 MGD with a monthly average of 2.6 MGD from, “the Amelia A, Amelia B North, & Amelia B South Mine Pits in the Altamaha River Basin for the purposes of dewatering active mine pit cells and filling the Amelia A, Amelia B North, & Amelia B South Process Water Ponds (3) in Wayne County.”;
  • A daily maximum of 0.065 million gallons a day with a monthly average of 0.065 MGD from, “three well(s) in the Floridan aquifer for the purpose of process water for surface mining of heavy mineral sands.”

The draft permits were announced the same day Gov. Nathan Deal announced a $10.5 million investment in the state’s water metering program. Since 2003, Georgia law has required all agriculture agriculture wells and pumps permitted by EPD to have a meter. Over 12,000 meters have been installed, according to a report from the Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission.

The funding is coming from One Georgia, the state’s program to spend money collected from the tobacco settlement. Deal named Marjie Dickey to fill the role of Agriculture Water Project Manager at EPD, effective July 1. Dickey grew up on her family’s peach farm in Crawford County and previously served Deal as an advisor on agriculture policy.

wayne county sand mine

Chemours plans to haul the extracted ore from a mine near Jesup, in Wayne County, to a Chemours facility near Starke, Fla. The material could be hauled by truck or by CSX Corp., which provides service between the two cities, according to the company’s map. Credit: Google Earth, David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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