August 14, 2008

My 2 Cents: Titan Cement and Pleasure Island...Are the Carrots Worth the Price?

As you have no doubt seen in the local news, Titan Cement is looking at Castle Hayne to build one of the largest cement plants in the United States. Even though the proposed plant is over 22 miles from Pleasure Island as the crow flies, we share a commonality with our friends to the north. We too obtain our drinking water from the Castle Hayne aquifer which could be at risk for possible contamination due to the company's proposed limestone mining. What, you may ask, are the exact risks? Well, I'd like to hear those answers too.

Both State and County leaders are courting Titan American, the parent company to Titan Cement, by offering incentives for them to come to Castle Hayne. New Hanover County Commissioners are trying to lure them with a $4.2 million dollar incentive grant and the State is offering $300,000.

On the positive side, Titan Cement expects to create 161 new jobs and invest over $450 million in New Hanover County.

Per a
May 16th news release from the Governor's office, the expected jobs would pay an average annual salary of $72,068, more than double the county average of $33,228.

On the negative side, there has been growing community concern that the plant will be a major environmental hazard. Residents opposing the plant have banded together and have hosted several community meetings as they attempt to learn what impacts the plant may have on air quality, water supply and overall quality of life. As their efforts have grown, they’ve created a website,
stoptitan.org, to keep residents informed.

Although the Wilmington area community has heard about the Titan proposal , the ones generally spearheading action to slow or stop the plant's construction are the ones who would most likely be affected by potential environmental impacts. As outlined on the Stop Titan website, "three elementary schools lie in the initial danger zone (5 mile radius) where the most (airborne) pollutants will fall, as is the site of the new elementary school on Sidbury Road. The growing communities of Castle Hayne, Hampstead, Topsail, Porter’s Neck, Ogden, and Leland all lie within ten miles of the proposed plant. The area of greatest contamination is within a 30 mile radius, which covers much of New Hanover, Pender, and Brunswick Counties." In addition, there is growing concerns about the impact of proposed limestone mining on the Castle Hayne aquifer.

So as we may have been sympathizing with our neighbors to the north, it is now clear that we too have a vested interest in this proposed plant.

Residents of Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and Fort Fisher obtain their drinking water from wells that draw from the
Castle Hayne aquifier. The concern is that the aquifer may be in danger of contamination if the company proceeds with their proposed mining plans. In addition to their primary 1,868-acre Castle Hayne site, "the company also owns more than 700 acres of wilderness and wetlands east of the quarry, which it plans to use for mining operations, according to a Carolinas Cement Company plan of study document dated April 15. That mining activity would affect nearly 500 acres of wetlands, according to the plan." (05/20 Wilm. Star).

The possible effects of mining limestone, which is the primary input in making cement, near the Castle Hayne aquifer has yet to be adequately addressed by Titan officials. When one looks at what has happened to other communities in similar circumstances, there is valid reason for concern. In March 2008, the
Miami New Times was able to make a possible connection between limestone mining for a nearby concrete plant and increased benzene in Miami-Dade County's drinking water.

So for now, there are many questions awaiting answers. And although the company's promise of a financial carrot may be initially attractive, one has to wonder if we will end up growing those carrots with tainted drinking water.
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