Lancaster Co. proposal could affect future gold mining – by Sammy Fretwel (Herald On – September 2, 2013)

That’s why plenty of people are watching Romarco Minerals Inc. these days. The fate of gold mining in South Carolina is tied to an ambitious plan by the company to offset wetlands damage at a huge mine it plans near Kershaw – and how well Romarco navigates the environmental permitting process, observers say.

More than 20 years after one of the state’s most prolific gold mines closed, Romarco Minerals Inc. of Canada is trying to persuade state and federal regulators to let it dig up and substantially expand the Haile mine in Lancaster County.

To do that, Romarco must convince regulators that the company has done all it can to avoid unnecessary damage to wetlands, streams, rivers and groundwater – and Romarco must offer compensation for the environmental impacts the mine will have. The company recently offered a wetlands offset package that could cost it $32 million.

Romarco’s efforts are expected to guide future company work in South Carolina, as well as those of other gold-exploration companies on whether to dig new mines. Some of Romarco’s competitors have been searching for gold in the Carolina Slate Belt, a rocky area that in South Carolina is largely between Columbia and Charlotte.

Richard Darden, a wetlands regulator with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said Romarco is covering new ground as it seeks environmental permits. His agency has little recent experience with gold mines in South Carolina. So the Corps will learn from the process involving Romarco, he said.

“I’d definitely say that,” Darden said. “It would let us know what are the details we need to focus on.”

Gold deposits were discovered in the Carolinas as far back as 1800, but they never compared to the bigger deposits later found in the West.

While some mines in South Carolina continued to operate profitably through the years, gold companies didn’t get all of the precious metal buried underground. The lack of equipment and lower gold prices are cited as reasons past operations never dug up everything.

As gold prices began to soar in recent years, mining companies looked again at the Carolinas. But unlike long ago, the environmental permitting process is an issue that today’s miners must address.

Romarco needs a federal permit to fill wetlands, as well as state water quality certification and a state mining permit, among other things. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s national mining team has taken a keen interest in the project, Darden said.

Diane Garrett, Romarco’s chief executive officer, said the Slate Belt “is very underexplored” and she’s aware that rival companies are watching Romarco.

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