For the first time in nearly two years, the public will have an opportunity to officially weigh in on Titan Cement’s proposed cement plant in Castle Hayne, when the state’s Division of Air Quality holds an Aug. 7 hearing to receive comments on the cement company’s proposed modifications to its air quality permit.
Tom Mather, a spokesman for the DAQ, explained that while a public hearing is not required by law, the division had decided to hold one due to the “contentious nature” of the proposed plant. The original air permit, issued in February 2012, is set to expire if Titan does not begin construction of the plant within 18 months. The extension application submitted by the company in April indicates that ongoing litigation by area environmental groups, scheduled for initial hearings on Aug. 7, is holding up that process.
Previous statements by company representatives had maintained that the plant would not be built until all permits, including a federal wetlands permit which would require a comprehensive review of the proposed plant, have been obtained. However, the latest application indicates that construction would begin as soon as six months after the conclusion of the court case.
Included in the application to extend the permit is a proposed change to the plant’s maximum permitted levels of particulate matter, microscopic bits of chemicals and soot associated with a range of heavy industrial processes. The new application seeks to increase the plant’s maximum fine particulate emissions by 22 tons per year, and raise the limit on coarse particulate matter by 10 tons per year. According to the EPA, particulate matter can cause a number of respiratory and cardiovascular problems in humans.
In a press release issued by Carolinas Cement Company, the increased levels are meant only to reflect changes in federal regulations passed in December 2012 that change the monitoring requirements for particulate emissions for cement plants. The release states that pollution control technology used by the plant would remain the same regardless. When asked, however, Mather was unable to confirm that the DAQ would have required Titan to change the number in the permit if the application had retained the original, lower emission levels.
Mike Giles, an environmental advocate with the North Carolina Coastal Federation, disagrees with Titan’s explanation.
“What we’re going to be asking Titan is why are you asking for this increase when you have already demonstrated that you can meet the levels specified in this permit? I don’t think Titan can answer that,” Giles said by telephone on July 1.
Geoff Gisler, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, indicated that the potential exists for the proposed modification to the permit to impact the law firm’s ongoing court case with the DAQ and Titan America, which has joined the state agency as a co-defendant in the case. On July 1, he declined to comment on whether the increased emission levels would be pertinent to any specific part of their case.
Regardless of the outcome, this round of hearings will likely prompt considerable public participation. Since the initial announcement of the cement corporation’s plans five years ago, the proposed cement plant and adjacent limestone mine has consistently been one of the most divisive issues in New Hanover County. When the last round of hearings were held in September 2011, hundreds of area residents showed up, many speaking at the hearing or submitting public comments.
Company officials from Titan America, and its subsidiary Carolinas Cement Company, did not return phone calls. A spokesperson representing CCC declined to be quoted.
The hearing will take place 6-10 p.m. Aug. 7 at the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Kenan Auditorium.