‘Standing’ returns to Blounts Creek challengers

Published 8:26 pm Friday, October 20, 2017

A Superior Court judge has ruled that a local environmental agency and its members do have a right to challenge a state-issued permit.

The ruling came at an Oct. 13 hearing at the Carteret County Courthouse, in which Superior Court Judge Josh Wiley heard arguments for and against the legality of a Division of Water Resources permit that would allow a limestone mining company to potentially discharge up to 12 million gallons of water per day into the brackish headwaters of Blounts Creek.

The latest hearing is another appeal to earlier rulings that those challenging the permit do not have the legal standing to do so, nor has the state’s permit harmed business owners who rely on the health of the creek.

Wiley, however, reversed one of Office of Administrative Hearings Judge Phil Berger Jr.’s previous rulings, according to Heather Jacobs Deck, executive director of Sound Rivers.

“He did rule at the end of the day on Berger’s decision that we do have standing to challenge the case,” Deck said.

The case — a challenge filed by environmental advocacy organization Sound Rivers and North Carolina Coastal Federation — has bounced around the court system for the past four years.

The argument from Sound Rivers is that the massive influx of fresh water will change the pH of the creek and threaten an ecosystem; Martin Marietta Materials attorneys maintain it would the change would improve the creek.

During the hearing, attorneys for the state argued that DWR did its due diligence before issuing the permit. However, Sound Rivers and NCCF’s attorneys from the Southern Environmental Law Center argued that under state law and the Clean Water Act, for which North Carolina is a delegated authority, DWR cannot issue the permit because it violates water quality standards. They made the point the state failed to take into consideration crucial information before issuing the permit, Deck said.

About a dozen people — residents and business owners of Blounts Creek who have supported the challenge — made the three-hour round trip to the Carteret County Courthouse to watch the hearing, according to Deck.

Deck said, in all, it was a positive experience.

“It seemed to be a positive outcome,” Deck said. “It was a good hearing. Our attorneys did a good job laying out the arguments and the judge asked good, clarifying questions.”

While each side has 30 days to submit their proposed rulings to Wiley, Deck said she doesn’t expect a decision for about two months.