Cotton Patch Landing: A million-dollar hobby?

Published 4:27 pm Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Shortly after the beginning of December, Judge Phil Berger Jr. handed down his decommission affirming the decision made by state agencies to issue Martin Marietta Mining a permit to dump up to 12,000,000 gallons of waste water into the headwaters of Blounts Creek.

The judge had delayed his decision until after the election. Perhaps he was concerned that this decision might negatively impact his campaign. He was running for a position on the N.C. Court of Appeals, an election he won by less than 2 percent. He was aided in his quest for this position by some last minute legislation passed with the help of his father Senator Phil Berger. This legislation allowed the judge’s name to be listed first on the ballot, giving him a distinct advantage and the victory — legal because of his father’s influence and help but hardly ethical. With this apparent lack of ethics and moral values how can we trust him to rule fairly — oh, that’s right he doesn’t have to rule fairly — he only has to please his father and the (now former) governor!

The Southern Environmental Law center, on behalf of the Sound Rivers Foundation and two local businesses doing business on Blounts Creek, presented testimony from several well-known and respected scientists, a physician, the director of the North Carolina Coastal Federation and our own river keeper, as well as the owners of the businesses. MMM presented no witnesses.

In addition to finding the testimony not persuasive, and entitled to little weight, the judge once again affirmed his previous decision that none of the above represented parties had any standing and were therefore not entitled to bring the requested action (rescinding the permit). He also decided Cotton Patch Landing, a marina, general and marine supply store, fueling station, inside and outside storage for boats, campsites and rental cabins located on several acres of prime waterfront property — to be a hobby. Judge Berger must have some very expensive hobbies.

It appears to this writer that the law is a hobby for Judge Berger — he apparently has not read the Clean Water Act. The actions proposed by MMM will dramatically change the headwaters of Blounts Creek both chemically and physically. These are facts that can be proven, and, in fact, MMM’s own lawyers have admitted as much, claiming that the changes will be an improvement. The law does not allow for changing existing waters even if you think you are improving them. We will be back in court at the next level with a real judge.

I have hope, however, because the outgoing governor in his wisdom and with the support of the legislature did away with many of the civil service positions in many of the state agencies charged with protecting the citizens of North Carolina and protecting our natural resources. They were replaced with political appointees. Laws were ignored or repealed. Penalties were reduced to minimums. Corporations were allowed to monitor their own compliance with the minimum requirements imposed by these agencies. This was a definite case of the foxes minding the chickens, and when the damages to our resources are finally discovered, the taxpayers get to foot the bill for the cleanup — where do you think the money for the so called super funds comes from? Us. The incoming governor will now be able to replace the current appointees and hopefully he will choose capable, experienced people who care about North Carolina and are dedicated to protecting our natural resources.

The outgoing governor ignored the hundreds of letters written in support of our Save Blounts Creek efforts. He ignored the petitions with over a thousand signatures. He ignored the citizens downstream from the coal ash ponds that overflowed, spilling thousands of gallons of toxic waste into local rivers. He ignored citizens living downstream from the pig farms now owned by foreign conglomerates He lost the election by a few thousand votes. Perhaps if he was more concerned about looking out for the welfare of the citizens of North Carolina instead of looking out for the interest of big businesses, he would still be the governor. Hopefully, the incoming administration will learn from the mistakes of the outgoing administration and start looking out for us for a change.

The Save Blounts Creek movement is alive and well. We have raised thousands of dollars through barbeques, road races and raffles. We are not going away. It is time for MMM to stop spending money on lawyers and to do the right thing: dispose of the water some other way. Alternatives have been presented, but they continue to choose the cheapest solution even though any additional costs could be added to the cost of a ton of limestone and recouped. It really would not cost them anything to do the right thing. Perhaps now with different leadership in Raleigh, they will reconsider their decision.

Ed Rhine is a resident of Blounts Creek and a member in the Save Blounts Creek movement.