Commissioners take stance to protect Blounts Creek

Published 4:44 pm Monday, September 14, 2015

The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners has signed on in support of the fight to “Save Blounts Creek.”

Previously, the board has refrained from taking sides in the issue that has pitted residents of Blounts Creek, environmental advocacy groups and supporters against the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Martin Marietta Materials, Inc., the company that proposes to build a 649-acre limestone mine in southern Beaufort County.

At the board’s regular monthly meeting, the vote came in at 6-1 in favor of the resolution stating: “The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners supports the rights of the citizens of Beaufort County to protect their recreational, aesthetic and economic interests in Blounts Creek and directs the Chairman of the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners and the County Manager to explore a possible alternative solution for the disposal of the water discharged from the Martin Marietta Mine into a fresh water creek, instead of into Blounts Creek.”

Commissioner Ron Buzzeo made the motion for the resolution; Hood Richardson was the sole dissenting vote.

That the board is tasking county staff with exploring other options for the discharge of up to 12 million gallons of fresh water a day into the brackish creek is a boost for the creek’s supporters — one that will carry them into Beaufort County Superior Court later this week as Sound Rivers, North Carolina Coastal Federation and the Southern Environmental Law Center appeal a previous decision giving them no legal standing to question the state permit allowing the discharge.

“We are pleased to see that our local elected leaders have now publicly supported our efforts to find a win-win solution that protects Blounts Creek for the long term,” said Heather Jacobs Deck, Pamlico-Tar riverkeeper with Sound Rivers Foundation, formerly Pamlico-Tar River Foundation.

While the resolution has no sway with authorities, it does put commissioners on record as supporting those who stand against the state’s issuance of the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.

“There’s really nothing we can do — this is a state and federal issue,” Buzzeo said.

Attorneys for DENR and Martin Marietta acknowledge that the influx of fresh water into two small tributaries of Blounts Creek will significantly change the pH of the water and threaten survival of some species in an estuary system designated by the state as a nursery for saltwater species. However, they argue that a change in pH upstream would allow other species to prosper, while at the mouth of Blounts Creek, where the creek joins the Pamlico River, the impact of the discharged water will be negligible.

“Save Blounts Creek” committee member and Blounts Creek resident Ed Rhine preceded the board’s resolution with a presentation to commissioners. As a career science teacher turned superintendent of schools, Rhine told commissioners that he knew from Martin Marietta’s first public meeting held in Beaufort County that something was wrong with the state’s consideration of the permits.

“I believed in the system. That is what it’s there for,” Rhine said. “I knew they (DENR) would step forward and do the right thing. They didn’t.”

Rhine, who describes himself as an Army veteran, lifelong Republican, and not “a tree-hugger idealist but a realist,” encouraged commissioners to support Buzzeo’s resolution.

“You guys haven’t done anything, but that’s part of the problem: you haven’t done anything,” Rhine said. “Doing nothing is not doing the right thing.”