PCS Phosphate drama continues

Published 1:44 pm Wednesday, April 8, 2009

By Staff
And so the drama continues.
The decision by the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday to require additional review of a PCS Phosphate permit once again delays the company’s long-term planning.
The Aurora facility needs a permit to expand its mining for high-grade phosphate ore from areas that include thousands of acres of wetlands. The permitting process has taken more than eight years, during which time the company has slowly used up what area it has for mining.
Considering PCS Phosphate’s significance as Beaufort County’s largest employer, the continuing controversy has stoked anger and fear among some county residents who resent what they see as unfair treatment to the company.
It certainly didn’t help soothe the tension when a consortium of environmental groups recently appealed a key state permit, saying the company’s insatiable appetite would cause the largest permitted destruction of wetlands ever in North Carolina.
The groups contend the company isn’t being selective enough in where it mines, thus tearing up wetlands it could afford to avoid.
The accusations have flown back and forth particularly in the past few months, and the matter has ended up in the hands of the assistant secretary of the Army at the Army Corps of Engineers’ Washington, D.C., office.
Though the matter is exceedingly complex, in most people’s minds, it seems, there’s a clear choice: jobs or the environment.
PCS Phosphate points to its need to mine land that affords it a legitimate chance to make a living. It also touts its well-documented wetlands-restoration efforts that have helped mitigate environmental damage while allowing the company to continue digging.
Environmentalists charge that no amount of mitigation following wetlands’ destruction will ever fully restore the land to its original health.
The truth, as in most cases, is probably somewhere in the middle.
PCS Phosphate needs a fair and unbiased chance to stay in business, but it must do its best to protect the area’s treasured wetlands. That may mean tightening its belt as have so many other businesses in this country.
We hope, though, that a compromise can be fashioned that will keep people employed and diminish potential environmental damage.