About 40 concerned citizens attended a meeting at Rockspire near Trigger Gap on June 6 to learn more about drilling activities next to The Nature Conservancy’s Kings River Preserve being conducted by Legacy Mining Company (LMC).
A consultant for LMC said about a dozen four-inch holes of varying depths are being drilled on the property to determine the feasibility of opening a quarry at the mountainous site. At the meeting, people heard an overview from Christopher Fischer of what is known about the project so far, heard a report by Pat Costner about the detrimental environmental impacts of quarrying in the karst subsurface, and listened to The Nature Conservancy’s Tim Snell about efforts to protect the Kings River and its watershed.
Fischer said as far as they know, LMC has not applied for the permits necessary for a quarry operation on the property. That means that citizens should have enough notice to be able to request a public hearing if permit applications are made to the Water Division of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. That is unlike the company’s five Notice of Intent to quarry applications made by Legacy Mining Company in late 2018 for Ozark Southern Stone located in Elk Ranch. The deadline to ask for a public hearing has passed, as per the published notice in the Carroll County News this past September.
Fischer said concerns from people who live in the Rockhouse area include not just how the surface and surface waters are impacted, but how the karst subsurface could be disrupted having impacts on water wells, springs, sinkholes and caves.
Drilling where there are underground springs and caves
Pat Costner, a retired Greenpeace senior scientist, recommended people who have concerns about a quarry in the area read the USGS report, Potential Environmental Impacts of Quarrying Stone in Karst.
“Quarrying in karst is one of the most environmentally destructive activities,” Costner said. “It destroys the ecosystem of the area where the quarry is.”
Costner said impacts quarrying can have include increased sediment discharge, water quality deterioration, water table lowering, sedimentation of caves, sink hole collapse and springs going dry. The flow of water underneath the ground can be disrupted. There can also be dust from the quarrying operation and from transport of either dimensional stone or crushed limestone that can be hazardous to breathe, and detrimental to plants. There can be effects on the quality of surface waters.
“It behooves all of us to protect our water sources in karst terrain,” Costner said. “Karst is very unpredictable. The take home message is you don’t want to mess with it.”
Tim Snell, associate state director for The Nature Conservancy in Arkansas, said the TNC was attracted to purchasing land for a preserve in the Kings River watershed because of the quality of the water and the aquatic habitat in the river. There are 18 endemic species in the Kings River, species that exist only on that river.
Other factors he pointed to include the “astounding beauty” of the area, neighbors who care about the Kings, and viable recreational opportunities that don’t destroy the land.
“Mining is probably not compatible with the river,” Snell said. “It doesn’t fit with what the community is using it for.”
Snell said people who love the Kings insert money into the area through kayaking, hiking, bird watching and picnicking, experiences people can remember their entire lives.
“We can’t afford to lose that,” Snell said. “You can’t rebuild it once it’s gone.”
Snell said the biggest challenge overall to the Kings River is sediment. In stream gravel, mining is particularly destructive.
Snell described the meeting as the first glimpse of a movement that could make a big difference to the future of the Kings River. He said Eureka Springs is notable in the state for a very big win, stopping the proposed SWEPCO high-voltage transmission lines.
“As this movement gains power, people will take notice,” Snell said. “A lot is determined by people power.”
Local farmer Duane Coatney said he didn’t think the community has anything to worry about. He said the property cannot be developed for 20 years because it is under conservation easements with the Arkansas Soil Conservation Service and the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission. He said the exploratory drilling is being done to impress potential investors.
“It is like going to Vegas,” he said. “They are hoping they will hit precious minerals or metals that will make it worth many times more than they paid for it. That doesn’t happen very often.”
However, Matt Mills, owner of Legacy Mining Company, LLC, and a principal with the investment firm Sixth West, LLC, said there are no existing conservation easements on the property and sent title company documents and an affidavit from the sellers that certified the property is free of any easements.
“Also, conservation easements are always clearly marked by signs along the perimeter of the property by either that land trust or government agency,” Mills wrote in an email.
Coatney doubts there will ever be a quarry there.
“They are in a hole there, and it would take lots of money to get the stone to the top of the hill,” he said. “There isn’t a demand for the stone in this area at this time and probably never will be. There are quarries already open that are permitted, so a new one won’t be allowed. Right now, there is nothing to worry about. There are other things we should worry about like having better roads to handle the traffic we have.”
Coatney said people concerned about the environment in the area need to be concerned about what they are doing around their own properties, and issues like silt coming off dirt roads in the county like CR 3027, which is poorly built without adequate drainage.
Fischer also raised concerns about potential traffic.
“How do you get the product to the market?” Fischer said. “Trucks will take a beating going up and down these slopes. Is the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department straightening out Highway 62 to make it a superhighway?”
Resident Mike Shah said one reason to oppose the quarry is that Arkansas is spending $150 million a year to brand Arkansas as The Natural State and attract people to visit. Shah said the economic impact of tourism is growing. Figures from 2017 estimate Arkansas tourism generated about $8 billion in revenue and $405 million in taxes.