HORRY COUNTY, SC – On Wednesday, July 5, the South Carolina Environmental Law Project filed a request on behalf of the Coastal Conservation League to the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) for board review of the June 20 DHEC staff decision to issue a permit to Soilutions LLC, authorizing the company to resume operations and begin additional construction on 33 acres at Edge Road Mine, a sand, clay and topsoil mine adjacent to Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve.
It is imperative to prohibit mining activities in and around this natural haven, which serves as a sanctuary for numerous species and offers recreational opportunities for residents of South Carolina who take pleasure in witnessing these marvels. There is an urgent need for more stringent mining legislation – a need that has bipartisan recognition and support – in South Carolina to protect special places like Lewis Ocean Bay.
The staff’s decision in this case fails to protect the unique and fragile ecosystems of Lewis Ocean Bay, which provides important habitat for Venus flytraps, salamanders, and other wildlife that require specific moisture levels to survive. The preserve has a unique assemblage of Carolina bays and longleaf pine forests that also rely on a precise balance of moisture.
“We just don’t know how a 30-foot-deep sand mine will impact the hydrology of the preserve and that’s concerning,” said Coastal Conservation League’s North Coast Office Director Becky Ryon. “If the native wetland vegetation and soils dry out due to extensive mining activity, it could increase the risk of wildfire and make necessary prescribed burns more challenging.”
In addition to not protecting the environment, the decision fails to safeguard the surrounding community’s quality of life, which will be impacted by excess traffic, noise and dust from the mine. Edge Road is a narrow, private road and families living along it have already experienced dust and noise issues from past operations – so much so that many residents say their children are now unable to play outside. Residents were also concerned about water quality, as impacts to groundwater might reduce the safety or quality of well water.
"Noise pollution from excavating and transporting the sand for years on end is an issue not just for the nearby residents, but for the wildlife of the preserve too,” said Trapper Fowler, Coastal Conservation League’s North Coast Project Manager and Certified Wildlife Biologist. “What is disruptive for people is also disruptive for natural processes such as migration, predator/prey interactions, and mating of our native wildlife.”
This is the newest development in a string of actions by all parties involved. In 2021, Soilutions LLC applied for a general permit for mining on approximately five acres on Edge Road. The Conservation League, along with other groups in the conservation community, have expressed concerns from the beginning about impacts to Lewis Ocean Bay and the habitat it provides for rare, threatened and endangered species in the preserve.
In October 2021, SCELP filed a request on behalf of the League to DHEC for board review of the original staff decision to issue the general permit for the Edge Road sand mine. In its request, SCELP indicated that DHEC’s General Coastal Zone Consistency Certification (GCZC) had expired three years prior, causing DHEC to rescind the permits pending renewal of the GCZC and ordering all mining operations to cease on-site at Edge Road.
Despite the DHEC order, Conservation League staff documented activity on the site on multiple occasions in 2021 and 2022, leading to this most recent DHEC permit approval.
"The approval of Edge Road Mine is yet another example of how South Carolina's antiquated mining laws and regulations have left South Carolina's communities and precious places out in the cold in favor of mining operators and their profit margins," said Staff Attorney Lauren Megill Milton. "We need to strengthen mining laws in South Carolina to ensure projects don't harm our most important places, and until that is done, we must demand accountability."
Lauren Megill Milton, Esquire
Staff Attorney, South Carolina Environmental Law Project
firstname.lastname@example.org, (843) 527-0078
Communications Director, Coastal Conservation League
email@example.com, (785) 766-5343