Monthly Archives: October 2009

Dark times call for bright ideas…

Letter to Editor or Community Voices @ Star-News

October 22, 2009

Dear Editor and Readers,

The public forums held by NC Division of Air Quality concerning the draft air permit received by Titan Cement are over.  Our community had its last opportunity to communicate our concerns regarding the pending arrival of Wilmington’s new bragging rights, the “4th Largest Cement Plant in the US!”  How can ANYONE who thinks about the future of our region find this to be something worth celebrating?  During the forum, we heard from both sides.  We heard nostalgic, heart-warming stories from former Ideal Cement plant workers, and we also heard scary statistics from scientists and doctors, who clearly understand the consequences of this rush to spend $4 million of our tax dollars for 160 (“mostly, but maybe not all local”) jobs, which will not be in place until 2014 by the way.  Please, those of you who are thinking only of the jobs, please think about the exchange we are making.  Don’t you think that we could find a better use for both $4 million in incentives, AND the giant site that Titan is posed to destroy?  If you are embarrassed to be a ‘NIMBY,’ here are a few things to consider.

We all know that right now, cement is necessary for concrete, which is a valuable COMMODITY. It is one of the basic components of human shelter and transportation infrastructure.  We also know that as lower Cape Fear residents, we live in a very unique place –  for reasons that are geological, biological, historical, and cultural.  Why do we have such powerful affection for this place?  It’s the amazing live oaks draped with Spanish moss, the vibrant historic downtown, and the sound of water on a boat hull, the remaining stands of longleaf pine, and bragging rights to incredible oysters, and the Venus flytrap.  We love this area for its amazing arts community, and public activism.  People stay for generations for these reasons, and people move here for these reasons. It’s a welcoming place, small enough here that we can all have a voice, we can all participate in our future, if we just pay attention.

Titan will be removing extraordinary quantities of limestone to make cement.  Limestone is a NON-RENEWABLE resource.  That means that once we use it, we do not get it back, unless you consider more paved surfaces and lining the pockets of out-of-the-country investors as a fair return.  What value, what ecosystem service, does limestone provide while it remains in the ground?  It’s our primary source of clean water.  The science is far more complex, but at a very basic level, the limestone that forms the basis for our unique geography is like an aquarium filter, a major component of a very complicated life support system.  For spiritual people, this ecosystem service is something that has intrinsic value because it keeps us all alive, and we cannot ourselves recreate it in its entirety, we can only mimic its function with technology.

Once the limestone is removed, it is ‘processed’ to create cement.  This process involves coal-burning, as well as incineration of other toxic substances (including tires!) that will produce mercury, and a host of other byproducts which offer no benefit to anyone.  The products of this incineration become airborne, entering our lungs, and the lungs and eventually, the gills, and skin of every other living creature within breathing range of the output, which can change with prevailing winds, precipitation, and even our development patterns. (here’s a reminder to think where we choose to put schools.)  Mercury is one of the most potent neurotoxins – that means it KILLS brain cells, and there is simply NO fraction of an amount that could be considered harmless.   Where do these airborne particles go…?

Next, let’s revisit a large part our tax-funded 3rd grade science curriculum, the Hydrologic (Water) Cycle.  In this more or less continuous process, the sun heats up oceans and water bodies, which evaporate to become vapor.  Plants contribute to this airborne vapor via evapotranspiration. Water stored in the atmosphere eventually condenses, and then precipitates as rain, or snow, bringing along lots of other solid airborne particulates.  Some of that falls in the oceans, and some of it falls on land, where it infiltrates, recharging our aquifers, the excess becoming runoff to water bodies.  Air contains water, and water contains air.  If something is being burned, that smoke does not just ‘go away.’  It comes back –  both the poisonous parts, and the less poisonous parts.  If it does not enter our lungs directly via the air we breathe, it finds us in the water we drink, and the fish we consume.

Now, let’s go back to our local economy, which is struggling to survive.  Titan is offering 160 jobs for ~1868 acres.  Anyone just a little concerned about this math? If we were to look at it differently, the area of the Titan site could contain….58 Screen Gems, or 4 Mayfaires, or 2.5 UNCW campuses, or 2 Wilmington downtowns.  How many jobs do these areas provide?

Hopefully, if you have not really thought about this before, you are starting to notice a trend.  It’s hard to talk about these ideas in isolation. (which is what the draft air permit allows, by the way.)  All of these things are connected.  Titan is attempting to build a facility here that offers incredibly large negatives in exchange for 160 ‘full-time’ jobs, and perhaps 2000 temporary construction jobs.

Nature, what little of it we have left here, keeps residents, and draws visitors. Even when left alone, the undisturbed portion of the Titan site has VALUE.  It keeps us alive, it provides habitat, it provides recreational opportunities.  The site is MORE than the horizontal surface land boundaries – the area that Titan will consume is also vertical.  It includes the air that is far above ground, and the water and limestone that are far below ground.

Is poisoning our air and water, and removing our life support system good for this region?  Have 5 county commissioners been fair and wise in their closed-door choice of the future of Wilmington, and the lower Cape Fear region?  Come on everyone, we have SO many creative people here.   Can’t we think of something better for $4 million in tax incentives, and for those +1800 WATERFRONT acres? Something that provides far more than 160 jobs?

Please don’t allow Titan to determine our future. Everyone should agree that a smokestack does not make a good welcome sign.

Let’s be VISIONARY. Let’s think of something better!

Lara Berkley