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Legal Battle Over Titan’s Air Permit Ends

Opponents organize a protest against Titan America's planned cement plant near Wilmington. Photo: N.C. Coastal Federation

Opponents organize a protest against Titan America’s planned cement plant near Wilmington. Photo: N.C. Coastal Federation

CASTLE HAYNE — The four-year legal battle over Titan America’s air-pollution permit for a proposed cement plant here is over, a month after the company scrapped plans for the project.

Titan announced in early March it would abandon its plans first announced in 2008 to build a new cement plant, which would have been a major source of air pollution. The company, which will continue to operate a cement terminal at the site, applied to state regulators March 29 to change its permit in light of the abandoned plans for mining and production operations.

Environmental groups including the N.C. Coastal Federation, Cape Fear River Watch and PenderWatch & Conservancy had challenged the company’s permit. The Southern Environmental Law Center, which represented the groups, announced Tuesday the N.C. Court of Appeals had granted the groups’ request to dismiss an appeal because the approval of the plant had been withdrawn.

Geoff Gisler

Geoff Gisler

“For years, Titan and the Department of Environmental Quality tried to keep citizen groups from getting a hearing on significant and avoidable air pollution from this proposed plant,” said law center attorney Geoff Gisler. “With Titan’s announcement that it has abandoned its plans and the state’s withdrawal of its authorization to build the plant, we have achieved the goal of this lawsuit — protecting citizens of New Hanover and Pender counties from Titan’s pollution when DEQ failed to do so.”

DEQ spokesman Tom Mather disputes Gisler’s assertion about the hearings.

“In fact, the department conducted a series of public hearings on the proposed permit for the Titan facility that were attended by thousands of local residents.  The department held two hearings on Oct. 20, 2009, and three more hearings on Sept. 27 and 29, 2011,” Mather said in an email.

Opponents said the plant’s air pollution could have resulted in hundreds of cases of severe respiratory symptoms, at least one premature death each year and associated health costs of millions of dollars for the area. Mather also takes issue with this claim.

“The air permit approved by the department would have required state-of-art air pollution controls, and the department conducted extensive analyses showing that the facility could comply with all applicable air quality standards and regulations,” Mather said.

Opponents said the company’s operations would have also resulted in the destruction of more than 1,000 acres of wetlands and threatened Wilmington’s long-term water supply.

“This is a major victory for the health and welfare of the citizens and the environment of New Hanover and surrounding counties” said Frank Yelverton, executive director of Cape Fear River Watch.

The law center filed in 2008 the first legal action against the project. The groups filed a successful challenge under the N.C. Environmental Policy Act in 2010 and intervened to successfully defend the Environmental Protection Agency’s stronger limits on pollution from cement plants in 2011. Since 2012, the groups have fought the state’s three permits for avoidable toxic air pollution from the proposed cement plant.

“This development is a welcome and necessary step to finally closing the books on a proposed facility that would have adversely impacted the region’s clean air and water,” said Zak Keith, lead organizer for the N.C. Sierra Club.

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Staff Report

The story was compiled by staff members of Coastal Review Online.