Corps’ decision hopefully portends end of PCS permit process

Published 7:58 pm Saturday, May 9, 2009

By Staff
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Washington, D.C., office on Wednesday gave PCS Phosphate in Aurora a much-needed shot in the arm.
The Corps largely backed a decision by its Wilmington office to permit PCS to expand its mine by thousands of acres — a regulatory process that has been ongoing for more than eight years.
In its directive, the Corps D.C. office gave Wilmington “a few minor to-dos,” said Tom Walker, chief of the Corps Wilmington field office. He described the changes as “nothing that really changes the flavor, but just some things that strengthen the decision.”
That good news, though, is tempered by the stipulation that Corps’ officials must also hold a meeting with PCS and representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Added to those concerns is the fact that the EPA could still veto all or part of the permit.
Walker noted this week that the meeting with regulatory officials could result in changes to the proposed outline of the expansion, but isn’t likely to significantly alter it.
We hope he’s correct.
Though the news is mostly optimistic, PCS spokeswoman Michelle Vaught added a note of caution Friday: “… It is important to note that the federal permit has not been issued,” she said. “We will continue to work closely with the Corps and other agencies in the coming days to assure the points raised by the ASA (assistant secretary of the Army) are fully addressed.”
The Corps’ decision frustrated area environmentalists, who have sought to limit the amount of wetlands PCS digs up as it expands its mine.
According to Derb Carter, with the Southern Environmental Law Center — which represents a coalition of environmental groups in the matter, including the Washington-based Pamlico-Tar River Foundation — the organization will push the EPA to fight to limit the proposed PCS expansion.
Though environmental groups are well-justified to push for protecting wetlands, we’d like to see this process finally end. An EPA veto could extend negotiations indefinitely, and that wouldn’t help anybody.
As we’ve said all along, neither side is completely right or wrong. We’ll be disappointed if a fair compromise can’t be worked out — and very soon.