Gaston County commissioners approved a resolution at a special called meeting on Friday (Aug. 6th) that establishes a 60-day moratorium on mining activities.
The resolution, presented at the request of Commissioner Tracy Philbeck, was unanimously approved. While it only delays activities in accordance with NC statute 160D-107, the wording of the resolution makes it clear that the proposed lithium mine southwest of Crouse isn't likely to get approval from commissioners.
Piedmont Lithium, a company currently operating out of Belmont, wants to mine spodumene and from that to extract lithium, which a company spokesman said during a presentation to commissioners at a July 20th meeting, is the 'mineral of the future.' Lithium is used for making rechargeable batteries, and the Piedmont spokesman, CEO Keith Phillips, says that with the move to more electric vehicles, it will become very important. Phillips noted that currently, 83% of the world's lithium is produced in China.
Following that meeting, at which two dozen residents of the area near the proposed mining operation spoke vehemently in opposition, Piedmont has continued its efforts to acquire more land.
The resolution contained language that made Philbeck's distaste for the proposed project very clear. It mentioned “impacts” to fish 150 miles downstream of an approved lithium mining operation in Nevada. It referenced the lithium mining operation of Lithium Corporation of America near Bessemer City, where a wastewater pool remains with high levels of arsenic.
Piedmont's presentation in July didn't ask for any zoning changes, but before they can begin any operation, those would have to be approved; and even before applying for rezoning, Piedmont will have to acquire a mining permit from the North Carolina Department of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources.
Piedmont began buying up land in January, although they didn't detail their plans to commissioners until July. They now control some 3,000 acres--some of those purchased, others by agreements with property owners. The area where the mining operation would take place is off Hephzibah Church Road, Whitesides Road and Aderholdt Road.
The company had an agreement with Tesla signed last September that promised deliveries of lithium for the electric vehicles Tesla makes would begin in July of this year, but that agreement has been put on hold.
As residents of Lincoln County are well aware, County Commissioners' disapproval of land uses is rare--in part because state laws significantly limit their power to maintain zoning regulations when property owners want to use their land for a purpose the commissioners may not like. Despite slow infrastructure improvements and resulting traffic problems, Lincoln County Commissioners have had to allow housing developments and other uses of land in the East Lincoln area, because of the threat that they could be sued if they said 'no.'
The Gaston County moratorium makes use of a law that allows delays if public health and safety might be negatively impacted by developments.