County officials in D.C. to fight for PCS jobs

Published 7:08 pm Tuesday, May 5, 2009

By Staff
They tell officials mine should be allowed to grow
Staff Writer
In Washington, D.C., congressional staff and one congressman met with a delegation from Beaufort County Monday that included three county commissioners and the county manager.
The mostly closed-door meetings took place ahead of a decision expected Wednesday on PCS Phosphate’s proposed expansion in Aurora. Commissioners Robert Cayton, Al Klemm and Hood Richardson made the trip with County Manager Paul Spruill.
Beaufort County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jay McRoy missed the trip because he was in Greenville presenting a resolution favoring PCS Phosphate before the Pitt County Board of Commissioners. The Pitt board unanimously adopted the resolution.
Other Beaufort County commissioners missed the trip for personal reasons.
In D.C. on Monday, several officials expressed backing for the county’s position. Congressman Walter B. Jones, a republican who represents part of Beaufort County, said the company is key to the economy.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Washington, D.C., office is expected to announce a decision by Wednesday on whether PCS can begin a large expansion of its Aurora mine. Controversy had swirled around the proposed expansion, because it would damage wetlands.
Environmentalists have long said that the company must exclude more wetlands from the proposed expansion area.
In recent weeks, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has also begun making that argument. It forced a review by the Corps of Engineers’ Washington, D.C., office, and some county officials worry that it will veto the permit if the Corps of Engineers grants it.
PCS and some local officials have called the EPA’s objections unfair primarily because they came more than eight years into the permitting process.
Lee Lilley, of Rep. G.K. Butterfield’s office, said Butterfield can push for a resolution, but not a specific outcome. Butterfield, a democrat, represents part of Beaufort County,
He added later, “It’s time to pick one (set of rules for the expansion) that is appropriate for both sides.”
James S. McCleskey, director of the state of North Carolina office in Washington, D.C., said he’s keeping in touch with federal agencies and monitoring the situation.
He said the Aurora jobs are important in their own right and through a multiplier effect, by which employees and the company spend money and fuel other employers.
He also said the company is critical to the port at Morehead City.
The commissioners also spoke with officials from the office of Sen. Kay Hagan. Hagan, a democrat, is the newest member of the area’s congressional delegation, and so the newest member to grapple with the issue.
Her press secretary didn’t comment on the Aurora situation, but he did point out that Hagan signed — along with the rest of the delegation — a letter urging the EPA to speed up the PCS Phosphate decision.
Spruill helped organize the trip along with a consultant from the Ferguson Group, a lobbying firm the county hired to bolster the effort.
The commissioners divided the lobbying work as they presented their arguments to officials.
Robert Cayton led off.
Cayton, who is from Edward precinct, told officials he had known Beaufort County since before PCS Phosphate arrived and talked about the importance of PCS Phosphate as a good neighbor. He said the jobs the company brings allow people from the south side of the Pamlico River to stay near home rather than move away.
Al Klemm told officials PCS Phosphate’s departure would be catastrophic for the county.
Hood Richardson covered the permitting process and praised PCS for not suing anyone over the issue.
No one knows, or at least no one is saying, what the Corps of Engineers will decide about PCS Phosphate’s permit Wednesday. The commissioners will try to speak to Sen. Richard Burr today in one last lobbying effort before the decision. But Jones seemed optimistic.