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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

Gaston County lithium mine gets another extension for state permit

A contractor for Piedmont Lithium drilled for core samples as the company tested for lithium deposits in northern Gaston County.
David Boraks
A contractor for Piedmont Lithium drilled for core samples as the company tested for lithium deposits in northern Gaston County in 2019.

North Carolina mining regulators have granted another extension of Piedmont Lithium's deadline to provide information about its application to build a lithium mine in northern Gaston County.

Piedmont was supposed to supply additional data by Jan. 14. But the company told mining officials in a Dec. 28 letter that it is still waiting to learn if a local wastewater treatment plant will be able to help it process wastewater from the mine. The company says the city of Gastonia's Long Creek Wastewater Treatment Facility has not completed its study of the idea.

The state Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources granted the extension, giving the company until May 1.

Lithium is crucial for building batteries to power electric vehicles, and the world is hungry for more of the mineral. Despite the latest delay, the company says it's making progress.

"Piedmont is committed to developing the proposed Carolina Lithium project as a world-class, fully integrated lithium hydroxide operation, and we are committed to taking the necessary time to appropriately complete the permitting process," Chief Operating Officer Patrick Brindle said in a statement.

The company said it has provided most of the other information needed for the permit.

"Piedmont completed the requested Leaching Environmental Assessment Framework (LEAF) testing, which helped fine tune our responsible reclamation plans for the site, and a majority of the other points within the additional information request with little data left to complete," said Monique Parker, the company's senior vice president for safety, environment and health.

If Piedmont gets the state permit, it will still need local zoning approval from Gaston County.

Piedmont wants to build a processing plant and several 500-foot-deep pits on about 1,500 acres east of Cherryville. While some residents have sold or agreed to sell their property for the mine, the project faces significant opposition.

This story originally appeared in WFAE's weekly Climate newsletter, published Thursdays.

David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.