On Nov. 14, with more than a hundred people in attendance and a dozen people lined up to speak, the current New Hanover County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) voted to postpone the public hearing on the two-year effort led by the federation and the community that focused on developing a more comprehensive Special Use Permit (SUP) for a small number of high-risk intensive industrial applicants.

The Industrial SUP proposal included an extended timeline, community involvement and notification, and for the most impactful heavy industry uses, a disclosure of external impacts that could pose a risk to local public health, environment and natural resources, such as water quality and quantity.

As a result of the BOCC decision, the New Hanover County Planning Board held its fourth work session on Nov. 15 from 2-5 p.m. to review the county planning staff’s proposed SUP text A-425 amendments.

Although the NHC Planning Board supports a required community information meeting and an extended timeline (35 business days) for review of intensive industrial applicants, the majority of Planning Board recommends deleting all requirements for intensive industries to disclose anticipated external effects of their proposed project on the community. The majority of the Planning Board does not think it is fair for intensive industry applicants “to testify against themselves” and that requiring an intensive industry applicant to disclose their proposed project details is a burden to the applicant and is troublesome.

But in many industries, a disclosure process is standard. For example, in real estate, a seller must disclose any issues with his or her property to a buyer.

This type of disclosure process is analogous to how an SUP process should also include a review of the external effects a proposed project might cause to a community. This requirement is customary in the most urban and progressive counties in North Carolina and was the cornerstone of the SUP language adopted by the Board of Commissioners in 2011. It is in the best interest of the community and minimizes the opportunity for the applicant to withhold information that is necessary for the Board of Commissioners to make informed decisions on whether an intensive industry is appropriate for New Hanover County.

During this most recent Planning Board work session, Hal Kitchin, of McGuireWoods LLP, a legal representative for clients in industry and development interests, recommended alternative language requiring intensive industry to simply list “anticipated” permits from federal, state and local agencies. This does not provide a full description of an intensive industrial applicant’s proposal and does not provide the needed clarity or objectiveness in the review process.

New Hanover County has a legacy of 29 Superfund sites that were developed under the guise of state and federal oversight. State and federal regulatory agencies do not adequately protect a local region’s natural assets, including air and water quality and quantity. As another example, no state or federal requirement currently exists to regulate the amount of groundwater that an industry may extract from the region.

Without a local SUP process of disclosure and an evaluation of impacts, an intensive industry could withdraw an unlimited volume of public groundwater resources, and potentially pollute this same water supply. In a county with predictions of increased growth that could affect the quantity and quality of clean drinking water, this scenario could have devastating impacts on current residents, businesses, economy and human health. These experiences of existing and proposed intensive industries in New Hanover County demonstrate the need for an informed, educated local decision process with regard to whether certain heavy intensive industries are appropriate for this community.

What Happens Next

Another Planning Board work session is scheduled for Dec. 8, and there will be a Planning Board public hearing in January with an anticipated action by the Board of Commissioners in February 2017. Stay tuned for those finalized dates and times.

What You Can Do