Judge rules Blounts Creek permit reinstatement

Published 8:01 pm Tuesday, February 20, 2018


Sound Rivers, North Carolina Coastal Federation and stakeholders in Blounts Creek business and recreation were handed another win Friday in Pender County.

Superior Court Judge Joshua Willey Jr. denied a request by attorneys for Martin Marietta Materials, Inc. to hold off on putting into effect his order to vacate a permit that would allow the company to discharge up to 12 million gallons of fresh water per day into the headwaters of a brackish Blounts Creek.

“We’re very pleased with the ruling,” said Sound Rivers Executive Direction Heather Deck. “We’re going to keep doing everything we can to protect Blounts Creek.”

About a dozen Beaufort County residents made the trip to the Pender County Courthouse to watch the proceedings, according to Deck. In December, Willey ruled the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality had not followed its own standards in place to protect the biology of Blounts Creek when the agency issued a permit that would allow the fresh water used in the mining process to be discharged into the creek. Willey ordered the state permit withdrawn.

Martin Marietta attorneys were back in court to ask for the stay because, though the company has not constructed the mine, the permit is only valid for five years and it would have expired at the end of August. The request for a stay was an effort to avoid having to go through the entire permit application with the state a second time, as opposed to simply applying to renew the permit, according to Deck.

Both sides have appealed Willey’s December ruling: the state and Martin Marietta on Willey’s finding that the state violated environmental standards; and Sound Rivers and NCCF, for Willey’s ruling against their argument that the state’s standards of pH in classified swamp waters were also violated with the issuance of the permit.

The case has been bouncing around the court system for the past five years, since Sound Rivers, NCCF and a group of Blounts Creek residents and business owners called Save Blounts Creek banded together to challenge the permit in the court of law. Their argument is that the continuous flow of fresh water into the creek will irrevocably change the pH of the water and the aquatic species living there. Attorneys for Martin Marietta have argued that though the pH could change, it would change to support other species.

“From our perspective at Sound Rivers, this dispute relates to a discharge of an enormous amount of water from the mine that doesn’t have to happen,” Deck said in a past interview. “We are not in dispute of the mine itself, but there are other options currently available to the company that would be much less harmful to the environment and would also be compliant with state law. It’s unfortunate that we had to go to court when a sensible solution exists.”

While both parties have appealed to the N.C. Court of Appeals, Deck said it could take up to a year before the case could be heard.