Environmentalists appeal PCS permit

Published 8:51 am Friday, March 13, 2009

By Staff
PTRF among groups objecting to state approval
Staff Writer
A consortium of environmental groups, including the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation, has appealed a key state certification granted in January to PCS Phosphate.
In its court filing, the group argues that the state Division of Water Quality bent rules to allow PCS Phosphate to get its certification and incorrectly analyzed the cost of potential alternatives.
The consortium also includes the North Carolina Sierra Club, the Southern Environmental Law Center, the North Carolina Coastal Federation and the Environmental Defense Fund.
The certification was a major step for PCS Phosphate in its path toward a federal permit to significantly expand mining operations at its facility in Aurora.
The appeal will be heard by a judge from the state Office of Administrative Hearings, who will make a recommendation to the state Environmental Management Commission, said John Dorney, a DWQ official who helped write the permit. The EMC will then make the final decision, he said.
Dorney declined to comment on the appeal itself because he hadn’t had a chance to review it.
Ross Smith, manager of environmental affairs at PCS Phosphate, declined for the same reason to comment on the appeal’s specifics.
Gisler said the SELC objects to the way the DWQ analyzed the cost of alternatives to the expansion that PCS Phosphate proposed.
Applicants must prove that damaging wetlands is the only economically workable way of accomplishing their goal before they’re granted the state certification.
The SELC contends the DWQ only analyzed the cost of alternatives on a 15-year scale, even though the project is projected to last 35 years.
The SELC also faulted the analysis of alternatives within the 15-year window.
The group feels the company could afford to protect more wetlands.
The coalition also found fault with the DWQ’s handling of the mitigation the company will perform for damaging areas within 50 feet of stream banks. Mitigation is the creation of new wetlands to make up for destruction of existing ones.
He added later, “They have conditioned the rest of the impacts on coming up with new rules.”
If the coalition wins its appeal, PCS Phosphate’s quest for its federal permit could be delayed while the state certification is reworked, Gisler said.
Smith said the company is hoping to have all its permits and certifications by the end of April.