These comments are submitted by the Kentucky Resources Council, Inc., on behalf of Council members who use and enjoy the resources of the Mammoth Cave area and who will be adversely affected and aggrieved if a KPDES permit is issued allowing mine-related drainage to enter Turnhole Springs.
The mining of limestone poses a number of potential environmental concerns that must be addressed during the permitting process in order to achieve the statutory goal of protecting the public and environment. The uncontradicted testimony of John Morgan in the trial of the Olive Hill Investment Corporation case, which was the case that caused the agency to revise the noncoal regulations in 1995, described the impacts of limestone mining in this manner:
Mining has different impacts depending on where you are in the operation from the first exploration through production to reclamation. The principal areas which you are going to affect off site are the surface water regime, the groundwater regime, and, then, aspects of noise, dust, vibration. Specifically going back to the water issues, surface water can be affected by changing the characteristics of the flow off the site, that your flow rates in storm events can be different.
You can also get a difference in the physical characteristics of the water such as suspended solids. The chemical quality of the water can also be affected if you come into contact with metals or other toxic materials during the mining process. The groundwater regime can be affected a number of ways by a mining operation. And the first is if you go into a pit operation, which would intersect an aquifer, then, you could have a drawdown effect whereby the pit itself is the sink to a local groundwater. You can also have effects to the groundwater. The flow paths can be changed, that you have the equivalent to a low-potential site where they mine so water can tend to flow to that and, therefore, could change groundwater patterns. You also have the issue that if there was any toxic material which was backfilled into the site, then, that could enter the groundwater, migrate in the downdip direction of the groundwater. So, you?ve got both a physical and chemical change to the groundwater regime.
The noise, dust and vibration issues, any mining operation creates noise -- its inherent with it -- by backup alarms, air blasts from blasting. And that can be controlled, but it will have an off-site effect. You also have the issue of dust. Mining, again, by its nature is a disturbance of the rock; and, therefore, you will be creating some dust both on the roads, the crushing operation and the blasting operation. And vibration itself, through any blasting, you will create vibration which can be transmitted through the adjacent [rock] strata, therefore, will have an off-site effect. (Transcript of Hearing, at p.91-3).
Against this backdrop, KRC has these specific concerns relative to the proposed quarry operation:
1. The Turnhole Spring Ground-water Basin is a well-documented basin of some 244 km, and is the largest contributing flow source into the Mammoth Cave Hydrologic System. In-Cave Dye Tracing and Drainage Basin Divides in the Mammoth Cave Karst Aquifer, Kentucky, USGS, http://water.usgs.gov/ogw/karst/kigconference/jm_incvedye.htm. Mine-related drainage, containing elevated levels of suspended and dissolved solids, may adversely affect the water quality within the cave system, since secondary karst flow is vulnerable to such pollution and there is very little attenuation of such pollution due to a lack of filtering within the system. Increases in turbidity may adversely affect the substrates supporting the cave shrimp and other aquatic species within the cave system. Among the considerations to be evaluated in reviewing this permit are the impacts to karst aquifers that may be physically affected by quarrying and associated blasting and by chemical or sediment contamination; the impacts on federally protected and state protected species; effects on the quality of a system whose complex hydrogeology makes it vulnerable to contamination and disruption by mining in such close proximity; and impacts to the aesthetic and biological values of the cave system.
To the extent that the drainage from the proposed quarry will contain elevated levels of contaminants, the applicant must demonstrate that will be no adverse impact on any federally-protected species within the cave system. Appropriate dye tracing of the site under all seasonal and flow conditions in order to establish the degree and nature of the hydrologic connection with the Mammoth Cave system should be required, and appropriate modeling for both chemical (dissolved solids) and physical (suspended and settleable solids) should be required in order to demonstrate the absence of impact to those species and to receiving water quality within the cave system.
2. Given the high degree of likelihood that there is hydrologic communication between the proposed quarry site and the Mammoth cave hydrologic system, the National Park Service should be consulted, as should the State Historic Preservation Office, in order to assure that the issuance of the permit will not adversely affect a property listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Additionally, the presence of federally-protected species within the cave system requires consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to assure that there will not be a taking of a federally-protected species through the issuance of a permit allowing elevated levels of solids to be discharged.
At a minimum, the agency should defer further processing of the application pending review and approval by the Division of Water of a baseline biological study, and until a finding of no adverse effect is issued by the US FWS and KDFWR.
Thank you in advance for your consideration of these concerns. KRC recommends also that the issuance of the KPDES permit be coordinated with the Non-Coal Section of the DMRE in order to assure no adverse effect on the environment from the proposed operation, as is required under KRS Chapter 350.