Blounts Creek saga continues with appeals

Published 8:12 pm Wednesday, February 14, 2018


In December, Superior Court Judge Joshua Willey Jr. vacated Martin Marietta Material’s permit to discharge up to 12 million gallons of fresh water per day into the brackish headwaters of Blounts Creek, a part of the company’s mining process in a proposed mine in southern Beaufort County. It was a major win for Sound Rivers, the North Carolina Coastal Federation and other stakeholders that made up the Save Blounts Creek group in an effort to prove the state did not follow its own standards to protect the environment when the permit was issued.

But the case is headed back to court Friday in another hearing before Willey, this time in Pender County.

“Basically, they’re asking for a stay (of vacating the permit),” said Sound Rivers Executive Director Heather Deck.

In response to Willey’s December decision to cancel the state permit, Martin Marietta filed an appeal in the N.C. Court of Appeals in January, but the case likely will not be heard by the Court of Appeals for a year, Deck said. Since Martin Marietta’s permit — which had a five-year timeline — will expire at the end August, lawyers for the mining company are asking Willey to reconsider his decision, which would mean the company would not have to reapply to the state for a new permit.

“This would be about the time of year that they would be filing with the state to renew that permit,” Deck said. “Basically, they’re asking for a stay so they don’t end up in a situation on Sept. 1.”

Both the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality and Martin Marietta have appealed the Sound Rivers’ win to the Court of Appeals, specifically the part where Willey ruled the state did not, in essence, adhere to the standards set up to protect the biology of the creek, Deck said.

“They violated that standard of the rule, therefore the permit was vacated. They didn’t do the analysis,” Deck said.

In return, the Southern Environmental Law Center attorneys representing Sound Rivers and NCCF have also appealed Willey’s ruling against their argument that standards for pH in classified swamp waters were violated by the state’s issue of the permit.

“All sides are appealing the pieces of the decision they didn’t agree with,” Deck said.

The hearing is Friday at 2 p.m. in the Pender County Courthouse in Burgaw. Deck said a group of supporters has committed to attending, but she does not know whether Willey will make a decision on Friday.

“We’re disappointed that the Department of Environmental Quality and Martin Marietta have decided to appeal,” Deck said. “Blounts Creek is a special place, and we’ll continue working to protect it.”