If a question falls in the woods

Published 7:55 pm Thursday, August 1, 2013

Tuesday night’s public hearing at Beaufort County Community College was an eye-opening experience. Hearings of this type are designed to gather the public’s comments on an issue before a big decision is made: in this case, it was the N.C. Division of Water Resources asking Beaufort County residents to air their concerns about Martin Marietta Materials, Inc., pumping 12,000,000 gallons of water per day out of the aquifer for its proposed mining operations — before DWR issues the permit that would grant the company the right to do so.

That’s fair. But Tuesday, right off the bat, a DWR representative told the audience the agency had enough information to issue the permit. While he may not have intended for his words to give this impression, they led those present to believe the permit was already a done deal and the hearing was simply a formality.

The public hearing officer did make an effort to reassure people that the hearing was more than just a required ritual before a permit is rubberstamped, but that effort was largely undone by the fact that those in a position to know, refused to answer a single question about the potential effects of the water drawdown.

It was eye-opening because if the people who attended the hearing — concerned for their access to water, their homes, and some, even their livelihoods — if these people can’t get answers from the Division of Water Resources and they can’t get answers from the engineers hired by the company that wants to build the mine, who can they get answers from? Are they supposed to blindly accept the scanty five paragraphs loosely describing how Martin Marietta will make everything okay if their wells run dry?

When livelihoods and a way of life are perceived as being threatened, no one can reasonably be expected to walk away and just hope for the best.

These people deserve answers. And not the only one that DWR Director Tom Reeder had for them Tuesday night, which was, essentially, “the answer to your question is there will be no questions.”

DWR serves the people of this state. It serves the people of Beaufort County. Mr. Reeder, it’s your job to answer the questions.