NC Division of Air Quality takes in public comment for Titan debate

Reported by Scott Saxton - email
Reported by Kristy Ondo - bio|email
Updated by Debra Worley - email

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Joel Bourne points to three reasons he opposes the construction and operation of a new cement plant in Castle Hayne -- his three children.

Bourne is heading up a group called "Stop Titan," which opposes the construction of a new cement plant in the Castle Hayne area by Titan Cement Company.  Bourne says 8700 students would be in a five mile radius of the proposed Carolinas Cement plant.

"This is just an incompatible use," Joel Bourne said on WECT's Carolina in the Morning Tuesday.

Project Manager Bob Odom also appeared on CIM Tuesday.  Odom says Titan America is following all regulations while going through the permitting process for Carolinas Cement.

Odom says the company commissioned a study to investigate any potential health effects from the release of mercury during the cement building process.  He says their results show even if the plant operated 24 hours a day, every day of the year, it would not pose a health risk.

"Even at that, we would not pose a threat to the community," Bob Odom said.

Odom says whatever federal and state rules are in place on the day the plant opens, the company will follow them.  Odom says the plant will monitor the emissions daily.

However, Bourne wonders why there is a rush to get the plant opened.  He says the federal Environmental Protection Agency should have new air quality rules by next Spring which will be a better guide for Titan America and the Carolinas Cement plant.

"Why the rush?" Bourne asked.  "It's going to take three years to build this plant.  Why not wait six months until we get the adequate regs that they're going to control this emission?"

Odom says the plant will bring 160 full-time jobs to the area.  The company plans to work with Cape Fear Community College on a curriculum to grow a base of workers.  Odom says their research shows another 400 jobs could be created for support services outside the plant.

"We're going to be a good community involvement and a good neighbor," Odom said.  "Those are things we must do to be successful."

The North Carolina Division of Air Quality held two public hearings Tuesday before making a decision on a final permit for the company.

The hearings took place on northeast campus of Cape Fear Community College, where dozens of anti-Titan demonstrators, including children as young as four years old, lined the entrance of the meeting warning against mercury emissions.

"I know the amount of mercury Titan's going to put into the air, and we won't be able to do the sports and things you talked about if Titan does come," said 5th grader Brandon Rollins.

But, the Division of Air Quality has already drafted a permit for the project, and many residents say that's good enough for them.

"I've been in Wilmington more than 20 years," said resident Livian Jones.  "I have an 11-year-old son, and of course I'm concerned about the environment and his health. And I trust the state and federal government to ensure they meet all the regulations that are required to be met."

During the hearings, both sides lobbied air quality reps for more than six hours, but the big questions is: how much difference will their opinions make?

Despite the massive outcry from the Stop Titan group, it appears the chances of the company's permit being denied are rare.

"We haven't denied very many permits," said Tom Mather with the NC Division of Air Quality.  "In most cases people will make the changes that are necessary to meet air quality regulations."

If the air quality permit is approved, Titan America will still need to get several more permits, like water quality, storm water, wetlands, and mining.

Stay with WECT and for the final word on the air quality issue.

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