Local News

Environmental opposition to coastal cement plant reaches Raleigh

Posted March 24, 2009 7:02 p.m. EDT
Updated March 29, 2010 1:27 a.m. EDT

— Opposition to Titan America's plan to build one of the largest cement factories on the East Coast is stirring up debate in the Triangle.

The plant would be built on the site of the old Ideal Cement plant, near Castle Hayne in New Hanover County. That plant shut down in 1982.

Some New Hanover residents and state environmental groups are concerned about the effects the new facility could have on the environment.

Proponents say the plant would bring much-needed jobs to the area, while opponents are concerned over the potential negative impact the facility could have on the Cape Fear River.

“Unemployment is at an all-time historical high in Wilmington just like the rest of the country. So yeah, the need is real for jobs,” said Gary McNair, general manager of WECT television.

McNair said he supports the cement plant. Building the plant would mean hiring hundreds of construction workers, and operating the plant would put about 160 workers on the payroll.

“There's the need for cement,” McNair said.

That need for cement, however, could mean mining limestone in an area covered by wetlands.

“One of the main things we're concerned about is the discharge of mercury,” Cape Fear Riverkeeper Doug Springer said.

The proposed plant would be on the bank of the Cape Fear River.

“This is from the pre-existing cement kiln," Springer said as he pointed to the old cement factory as a sign of what the new plant will bring.

“This river is already mercury-impaired. It's the only section of the river that is mercury-impaired. We can't say that's all due to the previous plant, but it's awful coincidental,” he continued.

Wilmington TV reporter Joe Mauceri has been following the cement plant debate for months.

“It's a completely polarizing force. You have people in strong opposition and people in strong support. Right now, it is the buzz of the town,” Mauceri said.

That buzz can be heard all the way in Raleigh, where environmental groups are lobbying state agencies and lawmakers to make it tough for Titan America to get permits.

The company, based in Norfolk, Va., and part of a company headquartered in Greece, has indicated that it is listening their concerns. In a letter to the state, it asked to be held to tougher new emission standards, surpassing what is currently required for permitting.

“Maybe I'm naive, but I've got to believe that the regulations in place were put there by people who know what they're doing,” McNair said.

“The mood is pretty tense I think,” Mauceri said. “It's going to heat up before it cools down.”

“It's going to be a long fight, but we don't have any other choice but to win. We have to win," Springer said.

Sen. Julia Boseman, D-Hanover, has introduced a bill that would put an 18-month moratorium on issuing permits for any cement factory in North Carolina. A public hearing was held on the bill Tuesday morning.