Beaufort County could be site for sulfur plant

Published 1:15 am Sunday, September 4, 2011

A sulfur-melting plant once proposed for a state port in Morehead City could be headed for Beaufort County.
PotashCorp is considering the company’s facility in Aurora as one of three possible locations for the plant, according to Michelle Vaught, public-affairs director for PotashCorp Aurora.
The company also is considering locations in one or more neighboring states or another country for the plant, she said in an interview with the Daily News on Friday.
No decision has been made as to the plant’s location and “no time frame” has been set for the project, she said.
Earlier this year, PCS Phosphate, a subsidiary of PotashCorp, had proposed to build the plant and a sulfur-pellet storage facility — a $95 million project that would have had 18 full-time employees — at the port.
Public outcry over the proposed plant’s effects on the environment and the effects of two 125-foot-tall smokestacks on the esthetics of the Morehead City waterfront led to the eventual opposition of by proposed plant by Gov. Beverly Perdue and prompted the company to halt the plan.
Opponents of the proposal said they feared that foul odors and pollution associated with the project would hurt tourism.
Vaught told the Daily News that, with current technology, the company could control odors associated with the sulfur-melting process.
At the time it announced it was abandoning the state port site for the sulfur-melting plant, PotashCorp said it would work with the governor to develop an alternate site for it.
If Beaufort County is chosen for the sulfur-melting operation, PotashCorp could still build the sulfur-pellet storage facility at the port and ship those pellets between the two locations, Vaught said.
It is expected that the PotashCorp Aurora would have to apply for modifications to some of its existing permits from various agencies within the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, depending on the proposed location of the plant.
The company’s plans have drawn the attention of the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners, which is scheduled to meet with Vaught and the Aurora plant’s general manager, Steve Beckel, on Tuesday.
Board Chairman Jerry Langley asked that the issue be placed on the board’s agenda.
The project continues to raise concerns of coastal environmental groups that were involved in previous discussions about the location of the plant at the state port. Some contend the effects of the proposed plant’s sulfur-dioxide emissions on air quality and water quality in Beaufort County would be similar to the effects that such emissions would have had at the coast.
“The environmental consequences are similar, wherever they put it,” said Frank Tursi, assistant director and coastal advocate for the N.C. Coastal Federation, a nonprofit group based in Ocean.
Tursi said he has met with company officials and asked that they voluntarily conduct an environmental assessment for the proposed Beaufort County site.
While less detailed than the more rigorous environmental impact statement, an environmental assessment would consider the effects on the local air and water quality as a result of the operation, he said.
If conducted, the assessment would be filed with the N.C. Department of Administration and available for review by the public.
The Pamlico-Tar River Foundation also is monitoring the prospect of a sulfur-melting plan locating in the county, according to Heather Jacobs Deck, the Washington-based group’s riverkeeper.
“We are taking a closer look at this and trying to understand what this proposed addition might mean,” she said.
PTRF representatives have met with some of Perdue’s staff members — including senior advisor Al Delia, who spearheaded Perdue’s involvement with the state port project — to talk about the proposal, but the organization does not yet have an opinion about it, she said.
With a payroll of $80 million, some 1,100 full-time employees and up to 1,000 contracted workers, PotashCorp Aurora is the region’s largest private employer. The company is Beaufort County’s largest single taxpayer, with a combined tax bill of more than $5.3 million recently paid by PCS Phosphate Co. Inc. and Purified Acid Partnership, according to county tax records.