Court Approves Destruction of Blounts Creek
Chapel Hill, N.C.— A state administrative court upheld a state permit that would allow a proposed Martin Marietta mine to destroy a popular fishing creek in eastern North Carolina with wastewater from the mine. Judge Phil Berger Jr. denied downstream North Carolina residents and business owners the right to challenge the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ permit authorizing the creek’s destruction. DENR permitted the flooding of the creek with mining wastewater, failing to protect the waters of Blounts Creek that are vital to an abundance of fish—including red drum and herring—and empty into the Pamlico River. The Southern Environmental Law Center represents the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation and the N.C. Coastal Federation in challenging the destructive permit.
“The court agreed that DENR’s permit will destroy this popular creek’s unique habitat loved by locals and people who come from across the state to Eastern North Carolina,” said Geoff Gisler, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The court’s ruling disregarded well-established state and federal laws that allow citizens who live downstream to protect our creeks when DENR won’t.”
In contrast to the Clean Water Act’s purpose—to protect our waters and the numerous benefits they provide —DENR’s permit would allow Martin Marietta to dump its wastewater into creeks that simply cannot handle it, despite the availability of less damaging alternatives for handling the mine’s wastewater.
“The court ruling completely ignores the interests of the people who live along the creek, fish its waters, and depend on its unique fisheries,” said Harrison Marks, executive director, Pamlico-Tar River Foundation. “DENR could require the company to pursue other available alternatives that would protect the creek, not harm the local citizens, and comply with state and federal laws.”
The discharge will transform the swampy headwater habitat into a fast-flowing stream consisting primarily of mine wastewater, permanently altering the creek’s diversity of life and abundance of high quality habitat for fish.
“Pumping millions of gallons of waste water into this creek each day will wash out the natural community, and that’s totally inconsistent with the Clean Water Act,” said Todd Miller, executive director, North Carolina Coastal Federation.
In order to develop a 649-acre open pit mine outside Vanceboro in Beaufort County, N.C., Martin Marietta plans to pump up to 12 million gallons per day of wastewater into Blounts Creek’s headwaters.
Martin Marietta admitted in its application that the altered creek would no longer support its existing mix of fish species and would no longer be considered swamp waters due to the increased flow, increased pH, and other changes to the creeks that would occur due to the discharge. Under federal and state law, North Carolina cannot authorize discharges that will violate water quality standards by changing the natural mix of species in a water body or by destroying uses that are protected by a supplemental classification, such as “swamp waters.”
State wildlife agencies and the Environmental Protection Agency criticized the plan in response to the draft permit.
In violation of state and federal law and despite other agencies’ criticisms, DENR’s Division of Water Quality required no significant changes to address these problems in its final permit.
About the Southern Environmental Law Center:
The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of almost 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use.
About the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation:
The Pamlico-Tar River Foundation was founded in 1981. It is a private, non-profit organization dedicated to monitoring, protecting, and enhancing the Tar-Pamlico River and watershed while promoting environmental justice. PTRF is a grassroots organization, supported by nearly 2,000 citizen members that help in fulfilling PTRF’s mission.