Residents push back as Lithium Piedmont aims to expand mining plans in Gaston County

GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — Residents in Gaston County are pushing back as Lithium Piedmont aims to expand its mining plans.

The county is home to one of the biggest sources of lithium in the world. In recent years, Piedmont has obtained hundreds of acres west of Gastonia for the purpose of mining lithium there.

Company officials said they have recently found more lithium in the county’s ground and they want to expand their project to include those areas.

The company’s goal is to become a domestic supplier of battery-grade lithium hydroxide, and it hopes to soon have a production plant in the county, creating an abundance of new jobs.

But many residents in the area said the damage the project will do to the community outweighs the benefits.

“They say they are bringing 500 jobs, but at what cost? They are threatening farms and homes,” resident Will Baldwin said.

According to Baldwin, the land near the proposed operation has been in his family since the 1700s. He believes the mining is going to do irreparable damage to the community between Dallas and Cherryville.

“That’s a risk we really can’t afford in this region,” Baldwin said.

Catawba Riverkeeper Brandon Jones said he plans to attend the board of commissioners meeting next week when Piedmont Lithium is expected to make its pitch to start the permitting process on a $500 million investment.

He worries that they will have to fill in wetlands and streams that could drain area waterways if there is a drought.

“They will be pumping the ground water back up and trying to fill those streams,” he said.

Jones said he wants the county to closely monitor the mining operations.

Channel 9 spoke with Piedmont Lithium representatives by phone Thursday and they said they want the same. The company said it looks forward to working with Jones and remaining open about all of its expansion plans.

Officials said they expect to mine for lithium that will make longer running electric-powered cars and improve battery powered devices while also creating jobs in Gaston County.

The company will make their pitch to the board next Tuesday to begin the steps toward building a processing center and mines in the area.

Some residents have already agreed to sell their property to Piedmont Lithium to make room for mining. Officials said they hope to clear local hurdles in the next few months and get approval from the state by the end of the year.

The Gastonia area used to be the top source for lithium. The Charlotte Business Journal reports much of the world’s supply of the chemical element came from two mines west of Gastonia from the 1950′s to the 1990′s.

Piedmont Lithium will now mine that same area for lithium ore and refine it for Tesla.

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