This post explains how to file your comment on the proposed NPDES Permit AL0082759 that is pending issuance to MS Industries II, LLC by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM).
1. Comment Deadline
Friday, March 13, 2015, 4 p.m. (CDT)
2-A: File by U.S. Mail
Russell A. Kelly, Chief
Permits and Services Division
Alabama Department of Environmental Management
P. O. Box 301463
Montgomery, AL 36130-1463
2-B: File by Email
Although the ADEM notice does not refer to filing by email, Charles Rose and others have been told by ADEM representatives that comments can be emailed, by the deadline, to:
Russell A. Kelly firstname.lastname@example.org
You should include the words: Comment on NPDES Permit AL0082759 in the subject line of your email.
3: NPDES Permit No. Must Be Included
You MUST MUST MUST include the NPDES permit number on the first page of your comments.
You are commenting on:
NPDES Permit No. AL0082759
The 00 are zeroes, not letters.
4. Comment Based on Science, Not Opinion
The ADEM commenting guide says this:
In order to affect final decisions, comments must offer technically substantial information that is applicable to the proposed permit.
ADEM Notice (emphasis mine)
Scroll down later in this post for a list of key points that engineers and other scientifically-knowledgeable individuals have prepared to help with filing comments that refer to “technically substantial information.”
5. Request a Public Hearing
The ADEM rules also allow the public to file a written request for a public hearing on this permit application. A written request for public hearing must also be filed by 4 p.m., Friday, March 13, 2015 (CDT). The hearing request “must state the nature of the issues proposed to be raised in the hearing.”
Talking Points for Commenting on the Application for Permit No. AL0082759
These talking points were created on behalf of the Shoals Environmental Alliance, Inc. and published here by request.
Talking Points for Commenting
- The proposed permit and supporting materials do not include any data on the elevations of groundwater at the proposed 7-acre quarry pit and the seasonal variations in such groundwater elevations. Groundwater in this area of Lawrence County is often encountered at shallow depths and thus there is a high probability that excavation of the quarry pit to the proposed depth will encounter the upper groundwater aquifer. At one location within one half mile of the quarry site, groundwater is found within 5 feet of the surface.
- The potential effects of the proposed mining on groundwater are of concern. If the upper groundwater aquifer is at a shallow enough depth to be intercepted by the mining operation, it could become necessary to continuously pump groundwater from the excavation areas in order to access the target minerals. The applicant’s pollution abatement plan (PAP) states that the operations will take place on a knoll or ridge, but if the excavation is deep enough to incise the upper aquifer, the mining operation at that point would encounter a continuous infiltration of groundwater requiring continuous removal to enable equipment and personnel access to the target minerals.
- The applicant’s Pollution Abatement Plan frequently refers to control of storm water run-off, but does not appear to anticipate any potential need for groundwater management. On page 7 of the application, both of the proposed outfalls are shown as having no groundwater discharge, an assertion not supported by any geohydrological information. If continuous groundwater pumping becomes necessary, will the proposed basins be adequate to contain the volumes produced and to concurrently provide enough residence time for suspended solids to settle out sufficient to meet the discharge limitation? This question should be fully resolved before any permit is issued.
- The proposed permit includes no requirement for monitoring of groundwater that might well be encountered at the quarry site to detect contaminants (both inorganic and organic) resulting from the excavation operation. Recent rulings by federal courts have held that NPDES regulations apply to groundwater that “significantly affects the chemical, physical, or biological integrity” of surface streams such as Hogwood Branch. (See, for example, Rapanos v. United States, 2006, U.S. Supreme Court, United States v. Robison, 2007, 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, and Tennessee Riverkeeper v. Hensley-Graves Holdings, 2014, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama)
- ADEM should require a thorough hydrologic study, of the 30-acre quarry property, using dye tracing if deemed necessary, to determine the routing and volume of the groundwater flow at this location. Particular attention should be given to determining the routing and volume of groundwater that eventually discharges through springs or seeps into Hogwood Branch. Such flow would of course be combined with the discharge of groundwater that accumulates in the two sedimentation ponds to determine the net effect on the water quality of Hogwood Branch.
- Prior to commencement of mining activity, the applicant should be required to establish the groundwater elevation on at least two locations, one inside the area to be mined and another within 25 feet of the fence boundary on the south side of the property, by advancing two 4-inch diameter bore holes to a depth of at least 25 feet and constructing temporary wells at each. The applicant should be required to perform PERC testing on each bore and record and report to ADEM all related data from the test borings. Tests should also be run on representative water samples extracted from the test wells to determine pH, hardness and any organic content. This information should be taken into account in considering modification of the discharge limitation in the proposed permit.
- The Operator should be required to develop a site-specific plan for expected volume of water influx (based on PERC tests and aquifer exposure during mining) into the mined pit from expected aquifer water flows, with said water to be collected, pumped, measured and analyzed at least weekly to determine pH, hardness and any organic content.
Potential for Encountering Hartselle Limestone Oil Sands Strata
- Although the permit application does not identify oil sands as a target mineral, it does not provide any data that would confirm the non-occurrence of Hartselle Sandstone–an oil sands-bearing formation–within strata that would be accessed in the mining operation. The quarry property and all properties adjacent thereto lie with an area of Northwest Alabama that has been mapped by the Geological Survey of Alabama as underlain by the Hartselle Sandstone. Moreover, the proposed 7-acre quarry pit is to be located less than one mile from a site for which MSI has previously received a permit, now expired, for discharges associated with the proposed mining and processing of oil sands deposits. Such deposits could well occur at the proposed quarry, either near the surface or at varying depths within the proposed 35 foot-deep quarry pit.
- Should this material be encountered during quarry operations, and should it come into contact with mining-associated waters discharged to surface water (as it most likely would), the quality of such a discharge would vary very significantly from that encountered in extraction solely of the minerals identified in the permit application.
- The proposed permit includes no provision for operator notification to ADEM should this condition occur. It contains no contingency plan for addressing such a condition. Would any oil sands-bearing material encountered during the mining of the target minerals be stockpiled as “overburden” or otherwise identified for later removal to a processing facility? Would it be legal for the applicant to locally manage significant quantities of Hartselle Sandstone without benefit of a permit from the Alabama Oil and Gas Board, which is the agency charged with permitting the surface mining of oil sands?
- The applicant has advanced numerous borings within its fee title holdings and mineral leases in Lawrence County. ADEM should obtain and review the information from borings advanced at this proposed quarry property to verify, to the extent possible, the presence of Hartselle Sandstone that could be encountered in the mining activity. It is entirely reasonable to require the applicant to provide access to such information. Moreover, the final permit should require immediate notification to ADEM at any time mining operations encounter significant oil-bearing strata, given the very different, and more stringent wastewater management requirements necessary for the environmentally safe handling of such material. ADEM should establish a liaison with the Alabama Oil and Gas Board, such that the Board can be notified of any coincidental encounter with oil sands strata and take any appropriate action within their authority and responsibility.
Inconsistencies between Permit Application and Proposed Permit
- The maximum daily suspended solids limitation in the permit application is 30 ppm and the permitted pH range is 6 to 8.5; in the applicant’s pollution abatement plan (PAP) at part 5.3, the solids limitation given is 45 ppm, a 50 percent increase. The PAP states a pH range of 6 to 9. These inconsistencies should be rectified by revision of the PAP to reflect the limitations in the proposed permit.
Monitoring and Inspection are Critical
- Except for its failure to address the very real potential for encounters of groundwater and oil sands, which are major deficiencies, the applicant’s pollution abatement plan (PAP) seems comprehensive, but will it be carried out in practice? Will ADEM be able to inspect and enforce the PAP with anything close to an optimal frequency? What kind of inspection frequency does ADEM anticipate with regard to active mining operations at this site?
Public Hearing Request
- A public hearing should be held concerning this permit application. The applicant’s declared intention to mine the Hartselle Sandstone oil sands formation in Northwest Alabama has caused considerable concern among the potentially affected public. There is ample cause for particular concern that the applicant’s proposed operations could encounter that oil bearing formation, with potential adverse impacts on groundwater, a significant source of domestic and agricultural water supply in rural Lawrence County. The public notice provides no assurances that the proposed activity will not precipitate such condition.
- A nearby facility, convenient for hosting a public hearing, is the gymnasium at Hatton Elementary School, 6536 County Road 236, Town Creek, AL 35672.