Shared responsibility

Published 10:33 pm Saturday, January 17, 2009

By Staff
Sighs of relief could be heard Thursday at PCS Phosphate’s mining operation near Aurora, not to mention throughout Beaufort County and other parts of eastern North Carolina.
The issuance of a permit by the N.C. Division of Water Quality to PCS Phosphate moved the company, which mines rich deposits of phosphate ore adjacent to the Pamlico River, a step closer to expanding its mining operation. Receipt of what is known as a 401 permit was required before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could proceed with issuing the federal permit required for that expansion to occur.
If that federal permit is approved, that could ensure that PCS Phosphate employees will not be laid off during a recession that has seen many Americans lose their jobs because of an ailing economy. It means Beaufort County’s largest employer will continue contributing significantly to the economy.
There is no question the expansion will have a major effect on that area of Beaufort County. The question is what is going to be done to offset that effect.
If final permission is granted for PCS Phosphate to expand its mining operations, the company’s responsibility is clear: It must restore the nearly 4,000 acres of wetlands it will destroy as it mines phosphate ore.
PCS Phosphate must live up to that responsibility.
If mining permission is granted, state and federal environmental officials must be diligent in making sure the company restores wetlands it disturbs or “create” wetlands elsewhere. In a perfect world, the wetlands disturbed by the expanding mining operation would be restored to their conditions prior to being mined. It is not a perfect world, but that does not mean there should not be a “perfect” effort to mitigate wetlands loss.
PCS Phosphate, at some time in the future, must reclaim the mined areas. By federal law, for each acre of wetlands it destroys, it must restore up to two acres.
By accepting the 401 permit, PCS Phosphate agrees to not touch some of the best wetlands in the expansion area. That’s an admirable concession on its part. What would be even more admirable is for the company to go beyond what its required to do in mitigating wetlands loss. That would send a signal that PCS Phosphate is, at the very least, trying to be a good steward of the land.
To its credit, the company has a good track record when it comes to reclaiming land, which provides habitat for plant and wildlife, including migrating waterfowl.
The largest reclamation project in North Carolina occurred at the company’s 2,000-acre Parker Farm site near Aurora. At the Whitehurst Creek site, also near Aurora, 84 acres of wetlands were reclaimed, including a stream channel complex that is 110 feet wide, according to the Web site of Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan, parent company of PCS Phosphate.
That reclamation project earned the company one state and two national awards for environmental stewardship and reclamation. The company must continue its commendable record in this area.
Regan’s statement indicates the company’s intent to reclaim the wetlands it mines. But intentions, as noble as they may be, are not enough. The public should join state and federal agencies to make sure PCS Phosphate turns its intentions into actions by reclaiming the wetlands it mines.
Making sure those wetlands are restored should be everyone’s responsibility.