Monday, May 07, 2007

Miners consider county for shale

General Shale Brick says that if it does mine the Eagle Rock site, there will be minimal impact.
The Roanoke Times
By Cody Lowe

Tests to see if a northern Botetourt County site will yield enough shale for a workable mine are raising questions from a nearby landowner about the impact of such a project.

General Shale Brick, which owns the factory formerly known as Webster Brick in Blue Ridge, is looking at a 430-acre tract near Eagle Rock, said Dave McNees, the company's director of environment and corporate real estate.

The company, based in Johnson City, Tenn., is seeking a long-term source of raw material for making bricks at Blue Ridge.

"Our geologists have done some drilling and testing" on the Eagle Rock site, which General Shale has an option to buy, he said. "But we have not bought the property, we've not applied for any zoning approval, not sought any mining permits.

"We don't even have a mining plan," McNees said, although "the site does look pretty good."

Speculation about the proposal arose in letters to the editor in The Fincastle Herald last week. One asserted that General Shale planned to "take the tops off of 12 mountain ridges."

McNees said that was "totally false. We would not take the tops off any visible ridges." He said the usable soft shale on the site would be in the small ridges that come off the main ridges, near the hollows at their base. The mining sites would not be visible at great distances, he said.

Should his company decide to mine the site, McNees said, it would use a surface technique called borrow-pit, or sometimes barrow-pit, mining. The shale would be removed by grading, then loaded into trucks for transport to the Blue Ridge plant. No processing would be done on site, he said.

He also said mining operations would be limited to areas of 20 to 30 acres at a time and not be conducted across the entire site at once. Much of the land, he contended, would be undisturbed, creating a buffer from surrounding property, which includes national forest.

Robert Hundley of Eagle Rock isn't so sure of minimal impact. His parents own 630 acres adjacent to the tract that General Shale is testing.

Some four miles of Sinking Creek run through his parents' land, water "so clean I can drink out of it." Hundley fears that the mining will lead to polluting runoff into the watershed, which eventually works its way to the James River.

And he believes there is no way that such an operation can't affect what he called "one of the most fantastic views in this county." He would like for the state or federal government to buy the tract General Shale is considering and add it to public forest land.

McNees said that if his company does decide to acquire the property, perhaps as early as this summer, there will be announcements of its intentions as well as meetings to discuss those.

The company, he said, intends "to mine in such a way that would not have any negative impact on any neighbors."

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