Sulfur-melting plant ahead?

Published 1:51 am Friday, December 30, 2011

A sulfur-melting plant once proposed for a state port in Morehead City could be headed for Beaufort County as PotashCorp-Aurora considers its complex near Aurora as one of three possible locations for the plant —a move that has raised concerns among some of the state’s environmental groups.
That proposed project comes in at No. 3 on the list of top 10 stories in 2011 in the Washington Daily News’ coverage area.
No decision has been made as to the plant’s location and “no time frame” has been set for the project, company officials told the Daily News in September.
Although the company and the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners — which was briefed on the project in September — have promised transparency as the plans are developed, some environmental groups and residents who live near the company’s Aurora complex are concerned about the effects of the process on the environment.
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.
But public outcry over the effects on the environment and the effects of two 125-foot smokestacks on the esthetics of the Morehead City waterfront led to the eventual
opposition of Gov. Beverly Perdue and prompted the company to halt that plan.
Plan opponents said they feared that foul odors and pollution associated with the project would hurt tourism.
When it announced that 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.
It is expected that PotashCorp-Aurora would have to apply for modifications to some of its existing permits from various agencies with the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, depending on the proposed location of the plant.
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 have said the effects on air quality of sulfur dioxide emissions and on the water quality of a plant in Beaufort County would be similar to the effects that it would have had on the coast.
The N.C. Coastal Federation 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. As of this month, no such assessment had been filed.
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