U.S. Silica Given Go-ahead In Mine Expansion, Must Monitor Warm Springs

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) approved a modification Jan. 26 to U.S. Silica’s mining permit in Berkeley Springs. The modification allows the sand mining operation to expand its blasting and mining zone closer to downtown to a 40-acre tract on the southwestern edge of their property. The location is in a wooded hillside area along U.S. 522 South just north of Berkeley Springs, and across from Jimstown Road.  Anyone wishing to appeal this decision has until Tuesday, Feb. 27, to file a complaint to the Surface Mine Board.

U.S. Silica officials said they were about to run out of quality sand to mine in the existing quarry. The new section will extend operations up to five years. The vein of Oriskany sandstone runs all the way to New York.  It is a white sand and has low iron.  It’s good for many applications that are color sensitive like transparent glass.

In October, the DEP held a public meeting with U.S. Silica officials about the permit application. Various groups and individual citizens voiced concerns. Those against the expansion of the mining operation closer to town—and its iconic springs—were Town of Bath officials, Berkeley Springs Waterworks, and members of Warm Springs Watershed Association and Berkeley Springs State Park Foundation.

They felt blasting and digging would threaten the springs, which is the town’s water source and reason for a tourism economy. Despite attempts to find it, no one knows for sure exactly where the source of the springs is underground.
Geologist A. R. Snyder of WVDEP said because of the warm temperature of the springs, the source is deep, far below the terraced mining the company plans to do at the site. He said it will not damage the springs or contaminate water supplies.

U.S. Silica public relations consultant Mike Lawson said the process is called benching or terracing down on the ridge in terraces to mine the silica.

“We mined all the material we were able to capture north of here,” said Lawson.  “This is the last sand we have on the West Virginia side of the river. We’re slowly working our way south.”

Lawson said people won’t notice the mining as much as the northern edge of the county toward the river. There will be some trees and a berm.

U.S. Silica officials said they had studied a WVU report on water flow, and water flows south to north. The company has been mining in the area since the 1880s with no impact on the water, and officials felt that would not change in the future.

West Virginia DEP Acting Permit Supervisor Clarence E. Wright said, “U.S. Silica will monitor blasting at the springs and at the nearest structure.”

U.S. Silica’s permit requires monitoring seismographic monitoring at the Ladies Springs in Berkeley Springs State Park and a designated structure nearest to the new blasting area. Water samples will have to be taken every three months to be submitted to the DEP environmental inspector, which measure suspended and dissolved solids, acidity, alkalinity, turbidity of the springs, and water flow. Results of the testing are to be made available to the public and town officials through a public records request.

Kate Lehman of Warm Springs Watershed Association said the association appreciates that monitoring of the springs has been made a requisite of the sand mine permit modification. 

“The strong showing of Morgan County citizens and town government officials that voiced their concerns to WVDEP made the difference in obtaining these additional permit requirements,” Lehman said. “While we are still concerned that deep mining could create future problems, the requirements for water analysis and seismic monitoring are a positive sign that we can work together to protect the integrity of our water.  Hopefully, the reports will alert us if anything looks abnormal before irreparable harm occurs.”

In accordance with West Virginia Code §22-4-25, any interested parties have until Feb. 26 to appeal the DEP’s decision, which would be heard by the Surface Mine Board, a board of seven appointed members. More information is available from the Surface Mine Board at (304) 926-0445, extension 1685, or send correspondence to Surface Mine Board, 601 57th Street SE, Charleston, WV 25304.