The Fight that Stopped Titan Cement

An extraordinary campaign won by everyday kind of people

On March 10, 2016 a victory dance was held in New Hanover County, North Carolina. After an eight-year battle, Titan America announced it was abandoning plans to develop a coal-fired cement plant and strip mine along the northeast Cape Fear River in Castle Hayne. This was a huge achievement for thousands of grassroots residents, civic organizations, businesses, medical professionals and environmental groups that took such a determined stance with their voices, letters, petitions and rallies to protect their community and surrounding area. Along with thousands of people in the region, the North Carolina Coastal Federation and a coalition of partners with legal representation from the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Duke University Environmental Law and Policy Clinic led the charge with a long legislative and legal battle to stop Titan.

Never underestimate the value of a community and individuals standing together for something better!

The Wake-Up Call

Titan Cement was the wake-up call to realize how industries could threaten the community’s well-being overnight. At that time, New Hanover County did not have any review process or a Special Use Permit (SUP) for heavy industry. Since the 1960s, New Hanover County had an open door policy for any industry; it did not matter if the industry would pose serious potential health and environmental risks to the community at large. All that was required of an industry was to locate in the appropriate zoning district and receive a building permit. As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has designated 29 Superfund sites as abandoned hazardous waste sites in the southeast coastal region which continue to threaten our community.

In 2011, New Hanover County adopted a Special Use Permit (SUP) process for heavy industry due to concerns that the county would not be in compliance with federal air quality standards. However, since its adoption, the SUP has come under fire from special interest groups and some industry representatives who state it has been a deterrent to economic development in the Cape Fear Region. But in reality, the real deterrent has been a lack of a long range economic strategy and vision along with inadequate infrastructure and utilities in the heavy industrial zoned areas of the county. Fortunately, city and county officials are now working together on a long-range vision that recognizes the natural assets the region offers for clean industry, economic opportunity and the need for more public involvement in the process.

Why We All Still Need to Stay Involved

New Hanover County is the second smallest, and third most densely populated county in the state with a projected population to increase by more than 50 percent over the next 25 years, reaching 335,000 by 2040. This will only add to the stresses the county currently has on its natural resources and limited water supplies from our groundwater aquifers and the Cape Fear River system.

Stop Titan Cement: The History

After three years of secret negotiations with county officials, New Hanover County residents had only three days in May 2008 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 one of the largest cement plant and mine in the United States. North Carolina also approved a $300,000 grant to Titan to bring the plant to our region.

Poll Finds Little Support for Titan in New Hanover

A poll conducted by Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling in 2011 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.

Titan Foregoes Incentives

In 2010, Titan decided not to take county and state incentive money in order to avoid a court-ordered state level review of its plans. The federation was one of three coalition partners that sued the state after it refused to order the environmental review that state law requires of public funded projects. The judge ruled in the coalition’s favor. By returning the incentives, Titan again avoided a comprehensive review of the negative environmental, social, economic, and health effects of its pollution before they could apply for any permits.  This review will still have to be completed before the Army Corps of Engineers will consider the required federal wetland permits needed by Titan. By returning the public funding Titan was allowed to apply for and received their air permit from the State Division of Air Quality. With permit in hand, the company has started investing money to build the cement kiln before the total 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

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 region’s 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 North Carolina 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 region’s economy.

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 contracted a health risk 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 five-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.