Burr prods COE

Published 9:30 am Saturday, March 1, 2008

By Staff
Seeks ‘timely’ resolution
concerning disposition
of PCS Phosphate permit
Staff Writer
North Carolina’s junior senator encouraged the Army Corps of Engineers, during a meeting with corps officers Thursday, to be timely in deciding where PCS Phosphate’s Aurora operation will be allowed to mine in the future.
U.S. Sen. Richard Burr met with corps officers to relay a message of concern voiced by PCS Phosphate officials during a visit to Beaufort County last week.
The senator paid a visit to the Beaufort County Economic Development Commission on Feb. 22, during which Ross Smith, manager of environmental affairs for PCS Phosphate, and Tom Thompson, the county’s chief economic developer, asked Burr to advocate for the county on the PCS Phosphate permit and other development issues.
Burr promised to return to the nation’s capital with Smith and Thompson’s appeal and to relay their concerns to Col. John Pulliam, who heads the corps’ district office in Wilmington. Since 2000, PCS Phosphate has been working with the corps to get the permit to mine new areas.
Walker would neither confirm nor deny that Burr met with Pulliam on Thursday, saying, “We cannot comment on private meetings.”
The Corps of Engineers released a supplemental environmental impact statement on two new mine-continuation alternatives Nov. 6, 2007. Comments on that study were received by the corps until Dec. 31, 2007. One alternative is called L, and the other is called M, with alternative M being the company’s preferred option, according to Smith.
The corps expects to complete its environmental impact statement on the PCS Phosphate permit by the end of March and issue a final decision by mid-May.
Any delay in the process at this point will cause a negative economic impact on the mine’s operation, Smith said while briefing Burr last Friday. PCS Phosphate is Beaufort County’s largest employer and the biggest user of the state’s port facilities at Morehead City. Based on a study conducted by East Carolina University, PCS has an annual payroll of $64 million and a regional economic impact of $800 million.
Alternative L follows a boundary on the NCPC tract and a new boundary on the Bonnerton and S33 tracts that would result in less impacts than the applicant-preferred boundary, according to the corps’ study. Alternative M is larger than Alternative L.
PCS has maintained that Alternative L is not cost-effective because of its restrictive boundaries that zig-zag around creeks and headwaters adjacent to South Creek.
Also at the Feb. 22 meeting, Thompson urged Burr to look into a wetlands issue that has forced Beaufort County to adjust the layout of the new 277-acre industrial park at Chocowinity. Portions of the industrial park are considered wetlands, and there are concerns those areas will be deemed off limits when the county seeks development permits from the corps, according to Thompson.
At that meeting, Thompson also lobbied for the senator’s help in gaining corps funding to replace the breakwater at Belhaven.
Following his Thursday meeting with corps officers, Burr’s comment on both counts was, again, that he urges the corps to be “timely” with projects in North Carolina, according to Walker.