Economic Development

Development of Cement Plant Hits a Wall, Seeks a Door or a Window

Some of our readers may know the history — which began in earnest in 2008 — of the Titan American LLC/Carolinas Cement Company LLC project planned for Castle Hayne, New Hanover County. The State of Noth Carolina and New Hanover County have committed but not yet spent some $4.5 million ($300,000 from the State and $4.2 million from the County) on the project, which remains planned for the banks of the Northeast Cape Fear River.

Long beset by political drag and dogged by well-organized public concern, however, the proposed cement factory — to be built and operated by Titan American LLC/Carolinas Cement Company LLC, “one of the premier cement and building materials producers in the Eastern United States” — currently sits in the delicate realm of the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA).

How did we get here? Well, in May of this year, Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens issued an Order that a SEPA environmental impact statement requirement does apply to the Titan project. In other words, though already subject to federal review (which factory proponents contend is satisfactory), the May Order means that the Titan proposal must undergo SEPA review prior to the issuance of necessary permits. By state statute, such review would consider the environmental impact of the proposed action, mitigation measures to minimize that impact, alternatives to the proposal, and the relationship between the short-term uses and long-term maintenance of the environment. The May Order, prosecuted in part by the Southern Environmental Law Center, reverses a November 2009 administrative ruling in Titan’s favor that allowed the plant to go forward without SEPA review.

Titan has appealed the May Order. In the meantime, Titan has been double-tracking by proceeding in a direction toward the SEPA review process.

All’s quiet, then? Nope, not even close.

Just last week, Titan announced in a letter to Governor Bev Perdue that the cement maker would decline the agreed-upon economic incentives and withdraw the pending appeal of the May Order in an apparent effort to focus on the necessary environmental approvals, which Titan believes will be slowed if not stymied by the incentives and appeal. The November 11 letter from Titan can be viewed here.

Not to be outdone, long-time project opponent and outgoing (by her choice) State Senator Julia Boseman sent Governor Perdue a letter of her own this week stating that it is “imperative that the air permit for Titan America be postponed until the SEPA review requirements are satisfied through the required NEPA review….” Therein, Senator Boseman accuses Titan of “using every maneuver possible to avoid a State Environmental Protection Act review (SEPA).” You can read Senator Boseman’s letter here.

There is much more to this story than this medium can accomodate, but this is the latest. Suffice it to say that, as is our usual refrain, controversial development projects are best handled with the utmost care and diligence on the part of both developers and local governments, as concerted opposition is virtually inevitable.

We’ll continue to follow along in this space.

Mike Thelen is a lawyer in Womble Carlyle’s Real Estate Litigation practice group. He regularly represents a wide variety of clients in land use and land development issues, from local governments to businesses, in both state and federal venues throughout North Carolina.

Categories: Economic Development

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