Chocowinity, NC—The Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan, Phosphate Inc., or PCS (http://www.potashcorp.com/), has applied to the Department of the Army (DA) for a Section 404/Section 10 permit. Such a permit is required because impacts to jurisdictional waters will occur if PCS expands the operations of their phosphate mine in Beaufort County. As part of the permit process, PCS is required to prepare an environmental impact statement (http://www.saw.usace.army.mil/WETLANDS/Projects/PCS/index.html), and participate in a public hearing, so they and the DA can take the public’s opinions into consideration. Last night in Chocowinity, NC, PCS and the DA hosted approximately 600 people at the long-awaited public hearing.
Before I get to the public’s opinions and sentiment, a little technical background might be helpful for some readers. An applicant—PCS in this case—will identify several alternative approaches for their operations, which have different economic and environmental consequences. The goal for the DA is to permit the alternative that meets the applicant’s economic interests while minimizing unavoidable wetland and stream impacts. Among these alternatives is one that is referred to as the applicant preferred alternative (AP), and in this case, the AP involves the loss of ~2400 acres of jurisdictional waters, including more than 7 miles of stream habitat.
Nearly 600 people were in attendance, and by a show of hands, roughly 60-70% of the attendees were employed by PCS. Among those who voiced their opinions for the public record were ~15 elected officials (or their representatives) from state and local governments, including a representative of Lt. Governor Beverly Perdue. All of the public officials voiced their unequivocal support for PCS, and the AP. In fact, Beaufort County, and several city and town commissions within the region passed resolutions of support for PCS; each passed unanimously. These municipalities include: Washington, Aurora, Belhaven, Chocowinity, and Washington Park.
Over the course of the hearing, there were only five attendees that expressed concern over the extent of wetland and stream impacts associated with the AP. Among them was a representative of Environmental Defense who noted that the area’s existing phosphate ore deposits will be exhausted in 30-40 years. He continued by encouraging the community to prepare for PCS’s inevitable departure, and stressing that a well managed landscape could provide the citizens of Beaufort County with a “natural capital base” once PCS leaves.
With the exception of the five individuals mentioned above, PCS enjoyed a deluge of support from the community, and most of the public relayed uniform messages of affirmation. Included within many of these testimonies was the fact that PCS employs more than 1000 people and provides another 150-500 contract jobs annually; 1/3 of Beaufort County’s manufacturing work force. The PCS payroll provides the region with more than $100M each year, and PCS pays approximately $500M per year in state and local taxes.
Supporters also stressed the environmental convections of PCS, and their, “demonstrated track record”. Several commented that, “PCS is an excellent environmental steward”, and that PCS, “leaves the land in better shape than they found it”. Support came from the area hospital, local banks, the United Way of Beaufort County, other humanitarian non-profit organizations and several local businesses.
If this meeting is any indication of the outcome of the permitting process, PCS will easily be awarded the AP, allowing for the expansion of existing operations until the non-renewable phosphate ore has been mined in about 30-40 years.