Thursday, June 20, 2024

Castle Hayne sand mine that led to lawsuit against DEQ proposed again, four years later

A sand mine operation located where contaminants have breached groundwater is being proposed again. The first time the operation was up for rezoning in 2014, neighbors of the proposed operation brought a lawsuit against the state's environmental agency.

A sand mining operation is being proposed off Castle Hayne Road in New Hanover County. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)
A sand mining operation is being proposed off Castle Hayne Road in New Hanover County. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — After four years, a Castle Hayne sand mine operation is being proposed for the second time. Only, this go around, property owners have the mining permit needed.

All that’s left is to re-zone the property.

RELATED: 5.25 million gallons of wastewater, CFPUA’s largest spill ever, discharged into Cape Fear River

In 2014, the same property, a 63-acre parcel tucked away off Castle Hayne Road, surrounded by over 4,000 acres of undeveloped land, was reviewed to be rezoned by New Hanover County Commissioners.

Groundwater contaminants

The property owners, Hilton Properties LP, cannot operate a sand mining operation unless it’s rezoned to heavy industrial.

Here’s where things get tricky: In the 1960s and 70s, the property’s neighbor, GE Hitachi, began producing fuel for nuclear reactors. Chemicals and heavy metals — including uranium — were dumped on the GE site but ultimately leached over property lines. The facility has operated continuously since then, and the site’s groundwater was contaminated as recently as 2013.

According to a 2012 U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission report, groundwater at the site – and offsite, near the proposed mine – contains excess levels of:

  • Uranium
  • Chromium
  • Flouride
  • Nitrate
  • Nitrite
  • Various organic compounds
  • Trichloroethylene
  • Cis-1
  • Dichloroethylene (cDCE)
  • Vinyl chloride (VC)
  • Calcium Fluoride

When its neighbors, Hilton Properties, applied for a mining permit in 2013 through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), GE wrote a letter, reminding regulators of the contaminants that lurked below.

GE said through its continuous monitoring efforts, some contaminants still exceed groundwater standards below the surface.

“It is our understanding that the excavation activities will be limited to removal of sand above the water table and dewatering to mine below the water table is not planned,” GE wrote.

Regardless, DENR, which later changed its name to Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), issued GE’s neighbors a mining permit — with no limitations on how deep permittees could mine near the water table.


A small neighborhood, Wooden Shoe, abuts the proposed mining operation. And everyone in Wooden Shoe is on a well.

After DENR issued Hilton Properties the mining permit, Wooden Shoe residents took action. A total of 21 people, including 14 Wooden Shoe residents, filed a lawsuit. The suit alleged DENR issued the permit without consideration of the property’s alignment with GE’s status as an Inactive Hazardous Waste Site.

Later, the suit fell apart because the petitioners lacked legal representation. Ultimately, the property was never rezoned.

On Oct. 4, Hilton Properties announced a community information meeting, citing Hilton Properties’ intention to apply to rezone the property for a sand mining operation.

Though Hilton Properties has not submitted its application yet, this is the first step toward rezoning.

Planned at St. James AME Church on Oct. 24 at 6 p.m., representatives of Hilton Properties will be available to answer questions and explain the current proposal.

Editor’s note: Stay tuned for an in-depth look at the issues surrouding the proposed sand mine next week.

Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee at

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