Gold mine digs up new controversy

A drill operator at Haile gold mine in Lancaster County.

Kershaw S.C. (WACH) - A historic mine in Lancaster County is being revived by a new search for gold.

Benjamin Haile first discovered gold in these hills almost 200 years ago.

Itâ??s been 20 years since mining took place in these hills, now a new generation of prospectors armed with new technology is rebooting the gold rush at the old Haile mine.

"The biggest demand for gold is obviously jewelry,â?? said Haile General Manager David Thomas. â??Thatâ??s where the predominant use of gold is, but it's also used in the technology industry, and the medical industry. We are back out in this particular area because of price. Thereâ??s justification and feasibility to mine gold."

Dozens of workers arrived in 2008 and started pulling samples from the earth to determine just how much gold is left.

"We have a strong confidence obviously in the technical team that's here and our environmental team, as well as the resources that are here,â?? adds Thomas. â??We've conducted a feasibility study prior to permitting application and we are confident of the economics of the project."

If the government approves that application, Haile could start full scale mining by 2014, increasing the mine's work force from a couple hundred, to nearly a thousand.

"About 84 percent of our population is from a 50 mile area of Haile Gold Mine," said Thomas. Mine officials say for every job Haile creates; four others are added by local businesses.

â??I get a lot of business from the gold mine, but itâ??s not only me, what they told you is absolutely true, they create a buzz,â?? said Gus Deligiannidis.

The mine is also creating a different kind of buzz with some people. "We're going to have to live near this poison for the rest of our lives, and I don't want to live like that,â?? said Kershaw resident Joan Legrande.

Legrande lives on some property the mine is trying to get rezoned. She claims her land is not included in an environmental impact study conducted by the mine, and worries the mining process will leave behind unwelcome byproducts if the rezoning is approved.

"When they dump this 400 million tons of toxic waste, it's going to be there for the rest of our life. There's only like a little plastic sheet that's keeping it out of our ground water."

But others say the mine has gone above and beyond in their efforts to satisfy the community's concerns, and in a region still devastated by the loss of the textile industry every new job counts:

â??It really bothers me, that there are people protesting,â?? said Deligiannidis, who owns two pizza shops in the county. â??These are my customers, I appreciate their business. Yet we are operating based on a fear.â??

On Tuesday, the Lancaster Planning Commission unanimously approved Haile's request to rezone 3,000 acres around the mine from residential to industrial. The measure still needs approval by county council.