Move into mining with caution
There is gold in Lancaster County, the site of one of the largest mines east of the Mississippi during the 19th century.
The question is whether reopening the mine would be like striking gold for the county coffers or striking a blow to the environment.
A Canada gold mining company has proposed opening the mine, which is near the town of Kershaw, about 55 miles north of Columbia.
The company is saying it would produce 800 jobs, and Lancaster County needs jobs. Its unemployment rate in May was 10.2 percent.
But “jobs, jobs, jobs” shouldn’t be the mantra if those jobs come at too great a cost to the environment.
It won’t be an easy decision. Residents would do well to gather as much data as they can before an Aug. 20 public meeting in Kershaw to air the issue.
Is swapping some insult to their environment for jobs a good deal for them?
Although there are trees and grass on the site, it hasn’t fully recovered from its previous life as a gold mine.
Further, companies have learned a lot about mining gold. It can be done more efficiently with less damage to the environment.
But not without some damage.
Romarco Minerals Inc. wants to open what would be possibly the largest gold mine east of the Mississippi, with open pits a mile wide and up to 840 feet deep.
With gold mining can come logging, erosion, filled wetlands, loss of biodiversity, sinkholes and groundwater contamination, which can lead to health problems among the local population. And there is the visual pollution as well.
Mining for gold conjures up images of the Wild West and ordinary people finding fortunes.
And the Haile Gold Mine, which Romarco is eyeing, operated successfully from 1827 until the early 1900s.
Still, Romarco has a lot of hoops to jump through before it could begin mining. It needs federal and state approval, and it would have a lot of environmental questions to answer — including how it will mitigate the wetlands it destroys.
The company is proposing a plan whereby it would conserve property on the Wateree River in Richland County as mitigation.
Part of the property is already conserved, but it isn’t accessible to the public.
Cooks Mountain is a rare land formation. Adjacent to it is Goodwill Plantation. Both are notable for their biodiversity.
Environmentalists and preservationists in Richland County have reacted favorably to the pitch so far.
Lancaster residents should make their views known also.
Many states have an extraction tax, which miners have to pay to take gold or other minerals from the earth.
Legislators should consider such a tax in South Carolina, with proceeds going to an appropriate use like conservation.
A golden age for Lancaster County?
Or a case of “all that glitters is not gold”?