WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – WECT recently sent reporter Ashlea Kosikowski to Roanoke, Virginia to tour a Titan facility and talk to neighbors and community leaders there.
Kosikowski toured the plant to see how cement is made. While there, she discovered some surprises on site, like an old quarry transformed into a trout pond.
Kosikowski found the experience to be eye-opening – she wasn't able to find anyone in the community willing to say anything negative about the plant.
Yet, Titan opponents in Wilmington say Roanoke Cement isn't a fair comparison. Those fighting the proposed plant wanted to show WECT what's at stake.
The proposed plant in Castle Hayne is in a coastal region in a wetland area on a river with groundwater and aquifer issues. The plant in Roanoke is a quarter of the size, and it's in the mountains.
The best way to get a good luck at the site is by boat.
The Sierra Club sponsored a trip up the river, and Kosikowski went along for the ride. Her guide, Mike Giles, is from the North Carolina Coastal Federation, and both groups are part of the Stop Titan Action Network.
From the boat, as far as the eye could see is Titan property.
"To us, if you put a map up of the United States and said where is the worst place to put a cement plant, it would be right here," said Giles.
Giles shows Kosikowski the site -- there are old silos from a former cement plant that used to be there.
What isn't visible is the mine that is in operation. A company called Martin Marietta is mining there and has been for the past 40 years.
Carolinas Cement says its mines will be about 80 feet deep. In Roanoke, which is geologically different, the mines are about 250 feet deep.
Opponents point to mining issues near the company's Medley, Florida facility.
In 2006, a judge stalled all mining expansion projects near the everglades, saying when it approved permits, the US Army Corps of Engineers failed to protect the environment.
In 2010, after an environmental study, permits for the ten mining companies, including Titan America, were reissued.
Additionally, starting in 2005, very low levels of benzene had been occasionally detected in the Miami-Dade Northwest Well Field adjacent to the Lake Belt region, where mining has been conducted since the early 1960s.
Due to speculation that blasting activities from quarries could be the source, a judge banned mining for three facilities, including portions of the Titan America facility.
However, after extensive testing, no correlation was made between quarry blasting and the water quality analysis results for the well field.
Titan America has participated in on-going quarry water and groundwater monitoring with the local regulators and no evidence of any contamination has been detected.
Of course, Titan says they have a superlative record in Florida and Virginia, but the cement industry has long been considered as a very dirty industry. The process to make Portland cement was patented in the 1890s.
The EPA says it's the third largest source of mercury air pollution, and Giles says what comes out of the stacks ends up in the water. The group put tougher restrictions into place on cement plants back in 2009, and Carolinas Cement says it will comply with those rules.
Yet, Mac Montgomery from the Sierra Club says environmentalists and neighbors still have concerns.
"I think the concern people have is, we want you to be a good neighbor in our community and we want to know everything about you," he said. "I think in our community today, we can't afford not to look at things from that point of view."
Opponents of the plant have also expressed concern about the underground aquifers, which supply our area's drinking water.
Others worry that the company will use 10 to 16 million gallons a day to dewater the mines, draining the precious resource.
According to Carolinas Cement, the average they will draw from the aquifer will be 5 to 6 million gallons per day.
The company claims the depth and area of active quarry operations should be similar to what has been done on the site and therefore the amount of groundwater withdrawn from the aquifer will be similar.
Three different perspectives on Titan leave several questions, including who is most correct about the plant: its opponents, the company, or its neighbors?
Perhaps, there's a bit of truth into what they all have to say.
Titan/Tarmac Pennsuco Complex environmental record (http://www.epa-echo.gov/echo/index.html)
ECHO shows a couple of enforcement actions in 2007 and an older issue from 2004:
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