Support from the North:

Nov 23 • FEATURE, NEWS & VIEWSNo Comments on Support from the North:

Titan

RALLY EQUALS GRANT: The Stop Titan rally, held last week at UNCW, landed the movement a $1.2 million grant in their fight against the cement plant’s construction in Castle Hayne.
Courtesy photo.

The fight against Titan Cement’s plans for a local plant got a big vote of confidence last week. The support came in the form of a large grant from the Education Foundation of America, a contributor to the arts, education and environmental issues based in Westport, Connecticut. Until now, the activists at the Stop Titan Action Network (STAN) have had to rely on private donations, bake sales and small fund-raisers for contributions. Mike Giles, of the North Carolina Coastal Federation, is among the citizens against a Titan Cement plant and says the grant is instrumental in further legitimizing their cause.

“We are going to be bringing in some experts now,” he says. “We can hire scientists and medical professionals to do some research on the environmental and health impacts this cement plant would have on our area.”

The plant has been in the works for years. Titan America, a cement manufacturing corporation, with locations in nine states and Canada, eyed Castle Hayne as the perfect spot and began filing permits. Opposition to the idea was immediate, spawning activism groups like Friends of Lower Cape Fear and Citizens Against Titan, who have teamed up with organizations like Cape Fear River Watch, PenderWatch and Conservancy, UNCW ECO, the North Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Southern Environmental Law Center. Work and action is documented on STAN’s popular website, stoptitan.org, where press releases are generated to keep the public informed. A recent issue was the large tax incentive that Titan was able to secure from the city. This month Titan returned the $4.5 million and stated that the money would “delay the project by two years.” Using information from the NC Department of Administration, STAN refuted that statement and claimed instead that Titan did not want the accountability of revealing its environmental impact reports.

By law the company would have to provide full disclosure of that information if given public funds. Giles refers back to the grant proposal filed by Titan years ago when they first requested the money.

“They claimed that they needed that money to be able to build a plant here,” he says. “Clearly, since they are going ahead with the plans after returning the money, that was not true. That is just one example of their deceptive practices.”

Bob Odom is the general manager of Carolinas Cement Company, a subsidiary of Titan America. He is confused about STAN’s decision to hire experts because of the studies conducted by Titan in April of 2009.

“No one believed our studies because we paid for them,” Odom said. “Now, the people at Stop Titan are paying for their studies, too. I’m very interested to see the results of those because I believe they will be the same as ours.”

As for the returned tax incentives, Odom explains the statement he made about a two-year delay. “We can get our air permits ahead of schedule and start designing our equipment. That is a two-year process. We’re not trying to avoid any study or test. I promise that we will not build a plant until we have every single permit.”

As for a recent discovery that Governor Bev Perdue’s son, Garrett, works for a lobbying firm hired by Titan Cement to help obtain the permits, Odom had no comment. Senator Julia Boseman wrote a letter to the governor last week and asked her to delay Titan’s air permit because of the conflict.

Those who have kept up with Stop Titan’s efforts were probably aware of the rally held on November 14th at UNCW’s Lumina Theater. STAN called the event their campaign kick-off, updating those in attendance about their new strategies and showing the documentary “Two Square Miles.” The movie follows a true story from Hudson Valley, New York, where a similar movement stopped the building of a cement plant in the community. The producers and stars of the film were at the rally to field questions. Giles says their presence was very encouraging.

“It was so great to meet people who fought the same thing we are fighting right now,” he says. “They had gone up against a $60 million campaign put forth by the cement manufacturing company and were still able to get their message through.”

After meeting the activists from New York, Giles is more certain than ever about the main ingredient to successfully winning the fight: people.

With that in mind, STAN was able to quickly decide on a spending direction for the $1.2 million grant. Without giving away any specifics to the opposition, Giles promises that Stop Titan has big plans for the money, including beefing up their grassroots efforts. With a passionate team of canvassers and educators, Giles and his colleagues are going to focus on community outreach. He says that educating the citizens is the most important aspect of the fight.

“We feel that this is not an appropriate project for this area,” he says. “We don’t think they have been upfront with the people. It is going to do serious damage to the air and the water, causing big health problems for the residents of Cape Fear, among other issues.”

Once the public is more widely aware of their work, Giles is confident that action will be taken. “This is our community,” he says, “and we need to have a voice.”

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