After three years of secret negotiations, New Hanover County residents had only three days to comment on a proposal by the Board of County Commissioners to “invite” Titan America to mine and manufacture cement on more than 3,000 acres along the banks of the Northeast Cape Fear River. Despite major public opposition, the commissioners voted 5-0 in favor of $4.2 million in tax incentives for Titan America to build and operate what would be the fourth-largest cement plant in the United States.North Carolina also approved a $300,000 grant to Titan to bring the plant to our region. If Titan succeeds, it will be one of the largest sources of air pollution in our area for the next 50 years.
The proposed facility poses significant public health risks for the community, will negatively affect the regional economy and will destroy over 1,000 acres of irreplaceable wetlands, wildlife habitat and potentially harm critical surface and ground water within the Northeast Cape Fear River ecosystem.
In response to Titan’s plans, citizen activists have organized a groundswell of opposition to the plant and created a website, to serve as an informational portal for people concerned about the effects of this project. The federation, along with Cape Fear River Watch, PenderWatch & Conservancy, Citizens Against Titan, The North Carolina Chapter of Sierra Club, Duke University Environmental Law and Policy Clinic and the Southern Environmental Law Center formed the Stop Titan Action Network (STAN) coalition to fight this foreign industrial corporation. For over four years, the federation and its allies have engaged people, scientists, business leaders, other advocacy groups and a large coalition of local medical providers to voice their opposition to this project starting with local county commissioners, to Raleigh’s state leaders and elected legislators and into Washington to testify before Congress. These efforts continue to increase the opposition to this project in order to protect our air, our water, public health and our natural resources that ensure the quality of life along our coastal region.
The effort has been paid by people, organized non-profits, and a grant of $1.2 million from the Educational Foundation of America.
Poll Finds Little Support for Titan in New Hanover
A poll conducted by Raligh-based Public Policy Polling found that a majority of New Hanover County residents oppose Titan's proposed cement plant. According to the results, which have a 3.8 percent margin of error, 52 percent of the 649 residents surveyed oppose Titan building the plant in the county; 36 percent support the proposal and the rest are unsure. Read more.
Groups Get Grant to Fight Titan
The Educational Foundation of America,
a Connecticut-based group that provides grants to nonprofits for specific projects dealing with issues ranging from environmental protection to education reform, gave more than $1 million to a coalition of environmental groups that includes to federation. The money will be used to continue the fight against Titan. Read more.
The coalition, called The Stop Titan Action Network, launched a new website
to provide the public with the latest news about the proposed plant, background articles and reports, and ways people can get involved in the fight against Titan.
Titan Foregoes Incentives
In 2010, Titan decided not to take county and state incentive money in order to get out from under a court-ordered review of its plans. The federation was among the Titan opponents that sued the state after it refused to order the environmental review that state law requires of projects that get public money. The judge ruled in our favor. By returning the incentives, Titan avoided a comprehensive review of the negative environmental, social, economic, and health effects of its pollution. This review will still have to be completed before the Army Corps of Engineers will consider the required federal permits needed for this project. The validity and objectivity of the review process would be severely compromised if Titan were allowed to receive its air permit before the review was completed. With permit in hand, the company could start investing money to build the cement kiln before its environmental and health effects are fully known. Talk about putting the cart before the horse. The company would certainly use that investment during the review process as justification for allowing the project to go forward.
The Real Costs of Titan Plant
THE ECONOMIC COST
Anti-Titan billboards started appearing
Titan and its proponents claim that the cement plant and strip mine will add needed jobs to the community, but they overlook the real costs of what a polluting industry will do to our natural resources, tourism-based economy, and existing local businesses. It could actually reduce the potential for future growth in southeastern North Carolina. Dr.Craig Galbraith and Dr. Curt Stiles, economists at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, refute Titan’s economic claims and say that the real cost of Titan will be a long-term loss of jobs and opportunity as well as potentially serious damage to our tourism-based economy in return for short-term economic gain. Their comments and position are based on an in-depth economic study that included critical analysis of the regions economic base and a three-tier modeling approach. This study reveals the weak economic argument with which Titan sold its project to New Hanover County and the NC Department of Commerce and directly counters Titan’s claims of job growth. The report's findings state that the net effect of the project on New Hanover County is only 48 total jobs and a drain on our regions economy.
Groups appeal Titan’s air permit
In August 2011, the N.C. Division of Air Quality issued a revised draft air permit for this project which was followed by three public hearings in Wilmington. Over 700 people attended these hearings and the state Division of Air Quality received over 1,100 written comments, most of which were in opposition to Titan’s air permit. Despite overwhelming public pressure, the state’s Division of Air Quality issued a final permit in February 2012 and in June the Southern Environmental Law Center filed an appeal of that permit on behalf of the federation and other groups. The case is currently scheduled to be heard in Spring of 2013.
New Hanover County Ups the Ante
In November of 2011, New Hanover County Commissioners voted to upgrade its 35-year-old zoning ordinance for intensive industry – Titan being one – that will require Titan to apply for and receive a Special Use Permit (SUP) before it can operate their facility. This permit will require Titan to address four criteria before the County Board of Commissioners that its facility will not have adverse effects upon:
- Public Health and Safety
- The harmony of the the surrounding community
- Surrounding land values and
- Adhere to all zoning regulations and ordinances.
This permit was an important step forward for New Hanover County, and enabled the people to have a say over whether to allow companies that could potentially damage its rapidly-growing, tourism-based economy. While some critics attack this as an unnecessary barrier to business, such permits were already required for many lower-impact businesses, and similar SUP’s for heavy industrial firms have already been established in most of N.C.’s other cities, as well as nearly half of state’s counties. Because New Hanover County has one of the highest population densities in the state, such a measure that ensures new companies won’t damage the existing natural resource-driven economy is long overdue, and will help to ensure the county’s continued economic growth.
STAN Brings Lois Gibbs to Conduct a Volunteer Training Session
In late January 2011, the Stop Titan Action Network was honored with the energetic presence of environmental activist and founder of the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice, Lois Gibbs. Famous for kick-starting the public outcry and subsequent government response in the Love Canal housing development in the late 1970’s, Gibbs led an inspiring training session for Stop Titan volunteers, helping to generate a multitude of ideas among the community members and working to improve messaging and strategy. Read the article here.
Independent Study of Titan’s Health Effects
More than 240 local doctors have voiced their opinions to the cement plant because of its potential effects on people's health.
Pediatricians, cardiologists, pulmonologists, oncologists, family doctors and emergency medicine physicians are on the growing list of medical professionals opposed to the plant. Declining air quality, they fear, is a major health risk for their patients. The emissions from Titan Cement, documented in its draft air quality permit, will degrade our existing air quality for the next 50 years. The federation contracts health analysis of just two of Titan’s proposed emissions which models the health effects on at risk populations in New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender County’s.
In January 2012, a representative from the independent modeling and consulting firm, ICF International, presented the company’s findings after conducting an extensive, peer-reviewed analysis of the health effects for two criteria air pollutants to be released by Titan’s cement plant, ground-level ozone and fine particulates. The report found that over just a 5-month period, the health costs likely to be paid by area citizens would amount to as much as $13 million in medical costs. They also estimate that 54 lost work days can be expected, as well as over 500 annual hospital admissions due to acute respiratory problems. The report will be critically important in the local decision-making process when Titan applies for the county’s special use permit.
Protesters outside a public hearing on the Titan air permit.
If its air permit is upheld by the courts, Titan has stated it will initiate the comprehensive review, it has avoided for over four years, a process coordinated by the US Army Corps of Engineers. This review is required due to the effects Titan’s proposed plans will have on wetlands which are protected by both federal and state agencies. This process allows all regulatory agencies, interested citizen groups, environmental groups and other stakeholders the opportunity to have their voices heard. The result of the review will be the Environmental Impact Statement, which will determine whether Titan is eligible to receive its needed permits as governed by the federal Clean Water Act. This review can take upwards of two to four years to complete depending on the complexity of the project and the potential effects upon the community or region.
This five-year fight is far from over and the federation, along with its coalition partners, continues to build support and develop strategies to ultimately stop this plant from negatively affecting the region for generations. In order to prevail we need your support and participation in this important issue for our entire coast. Federation staff manages and administers the EFA funding for the coalition, leads the advocacy efforts and coordinates the legal issues on behalf of the partners. For more information and details on this issue, email our Southeast Region Coastal Advocate Mike Giles or call him at 910.509.2838.
Invaluable wetland like these at Island Creek could be destroyed by the Titan project.