Opponents of Titan’s planned cement plant eye court battle

Opponents of Titan’s planned cement plant eye court battle
Published: 25 August 2009

Titan America has already survived a legislative campaign to stall its cement plant project. Will the company face a lawsuit next?

Opponents of the controversial factory and quarry planned for Castle Hayne say they will likely challenge the project in court if Titan receives an air permit before the Army Corps of Engineers completes its more lengthy review of the project.

State regulators and company officials aren’t giving any indication of when a draft permit for the project will be ready and released to the public.

“Hopefully soon,” said Titan spokeswoman Kate McClain, who said the company is answering the state’s “final questions.”

Once it’s finished, the draft permit will be subject to a local public hearing before the permit is complete, said Tom Mather, spokesman for the N.C. Division of Air Quality.

Stalling the air permit has been a chief goal of the plant’s opponents, who say pollution and destruction of wetlands will exacerbate health problems and harm the local environment. For the past several months, they fought unsuccessfully in Raleigh to pass a law which would have imposed a ban on cement plant permits until late 2010.

The N.C. Coastal Federation and PenderWatch and Conservancy have hired environmental attorneys. Joel Bourne, an organizer with the Stop Titan group, said they don’t have money to pay legal fees but will support their allies in any court action.

He wrote on the group’s Web site that if regulators don’t listen to resident concerns, “they will listen to us in court, because there is no way we’re backing down now.”

Opponents argue that since Titan was promised more than US$4m in taxpayer money from New Hanover County and the state, the N.C. Environmental Policy Act should prevent Titan from getting its permit until the Army Corps review is finished.

State officials have said the law doesn’t apply because the grants are contingent on Titan creating jobs and will not be used to build the plant.

The plant will use state-of-the-art pollution controls and all wetland impacts will be mitigated, company officials have said. The plant’s supporters have criticised the opponents for trying to co-opt the permit process, which they argue has been put in place to guard against adverse environmental or health problems.

Titan first applied for its air permit in February 2008. Mather said its not unusual for reviews of complicated projects to take this long.

Meanwhile, there has been no activity on the Army Corps review, said Penny Schmitt, a Corps spokeswoman. McClain said the company is focusing its efforts on the air permit.