The news came like a punch in the stomach to those who have been fighting against the proposed Titan Cement plant in Castle Hayne for the last three years: The North Carolina Division of Air Quality issued a permit to the company. As of February 29th, Titan is one step closer to building their proposed plant. This grant is really the first green light in the approval process and clears the way for Titan to obtain additional permits, but members of the Stop Titan Action Network (STAN) aren’t ready to give up the fight just yet.
“Titan now has a permit to dump over 12 million pounds of pollution in New Hanover County, which already ranks number one for toxic air emissions,” Sarah Gilliam, a STAN representative, says in a statement. “It’s frustrating to learn that our state regulators ultimately sided with a foreign-owned corporation over local parents, doctors and business owners; the fight is far from over.”
Representatives from the North Carolina Division of Air Quality emphasize that the standards on this particular permit are stricter than the permit Titan originally applied for. The new permit would reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 18 percent, sulfur dioxide emissions by 70 percent, particle pollution by 62 percent and mercury emissions by 82 percent.
“The environmental regulations are not written with the intentions to stop companies from building plants; they’re to make sure that, if a company wants to build a plant, all the environmental standards are met,” Tom Mather, a representative from the North Carolina Division of Air Quality, says. “We are regulators; we’re making these decisions based on scientific and legal obligations.”
Many within the Stop Titan movement still feel they’ve been let down by the division. “The issuance of a permit to Titan that allows additional pollutants to our already polluted air-shed is the opposite of the Division of Air Quality’s mission statement: to ‘protect and improve North Carolina outdoor air quality,’” local resident Julie Hurley says.
Back in January encore detailed the release of an ICF International study that revealed there likely would be adverse health effects as a result of Titan’s construction. The study used state-of-the-art U.S. Environment al Protection Agency (EPA) equipment to gather info that its emissions could cause an estimated $6.5 million in health-care costs in a five-month period alone.
The study’s findings and the other possible negative impacts of the proposed plant are still weighing heavily on the minds of many in the community. In fact, over 100 concerned residents of all ages and backgrounds gathered March 4th to protest once again against Titan’s imposing threat.
“As a community we’re saying enough is enough!” Wrightsville Beach resident Brinkley Hutchings says. “Our community can’t handle any more poison in our air and water. It’s really time for permitting agencies to do their jobs and protect people’s health and listen to the community. It is doctors, professors, mothers and people of all ages that are saying Titan shouldn’t get any permits.”
According to Titan, the proposed Castle Hayne plant would create 161 full-time jobs, with an average salary of $75,000 a year, including benefits. The plant would also create more temporary construction jobs, and company officials emphasize they want to recruit locally for all of these positions.
“It’s taken us four years to get the permit,” Bob Odom, general manager of development for Carolinas Cement, says. “The state of North Carolina would not have issued the permit if they feel we didn’t meet all the environmental obligations.”
Odom acknowledges there has been controversy surrounding the plant but if it is approved, he says his company will be responsible. “We’re going to be a good neighbor once we get there,” he remarks. “We’re going to be very cognizant of the river, plants, animals and the all the people.”
Community members say such promised economic gains simply aren’t worth the impending price. Titan still needs to be approved for various other federal and state permits before any construction could begin. The air permit does not commit the state to secure its remaining permits.
Members of STAN encourage others in the community to take action. “Now is the time to get educated and dialed in for the upcoming elections,” Gilliam states. “[This] can be the year we elect leaders who value our quality of life over the promise of a few jobs. We are not anti-industry or anti-jobs, but enough is enough—we deserve better!”