You may have already seen this piece over at The Dome regarding efforts by Camden and Currituck counties to block the Navy's construction of an Outlying Landing Field (OLF) on the basis of distressed and endangered species that inhabit the local wetlands. While I have my fingers crossed that this approach will work, I've seen much evidence that protecting our North Carolina wetlands and the myriad species that inhabit them is of little concern to those we have granted the authority to decide these things.
Before I begin my indignant finger-pointing, I want to talk a little bit about our wetlands. You should already know that they provide sanctuary and an ideal environment for all sorts of life to survive and procreate, but you may not be aware of just how unique North Carolina's coastal wetlands are in wider regional ecosystems.
While there are bird and fish species whose entire lifecycle takes place within our river basin and sounds, there are also many other species that have designated NC's coastal plain as their extreme Northern or Southern migratory boundary. To put it crude terms, they either have sex here or have their babies here. My point is, what happens in our wetlands has the potential of a much broader impact, affecting ecosystems a thousand miles away or more.
Another important function of wetlands deals with hydrological activity. We've talked about how important it is for rainfall to infiltrate the soil (as opposed to runoff). That slow migration of groundwater not only filters it extremely well, it serves to (once again) naturally sequester toxins we have released into the air via industrial emissions. Wetlands serve a similar function. Rivers and creeks flow into the basin and disperse, plant and animal life consume the nutrients and toxins, very often rendering them either inert or changing the chemical composition into something healthy and productive for the local ecosystem. As such, the waterways that feed into the Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds via our wetlands are much safer for fish, which is why so many of them choose these routes to spawn.
I think you're getting the picture. Our wetlands are more than just swampy stretches of underdeveloped land; they are dynamic and provide integral and irreplaceable benefits for us and our fellow creatures. Defending them should be at the top of everybody's list, not just conservationists and those opposed to jet aircraft landing fields.
Now to the finger-pointing. We've talked about the looming loss of 1,000 acres of wetlands thanks to the idiotic invitation of Titan Cement into an already distressed area, but I stumbled across something the other day that made me say some words I've been trying to stop saying.
While doing the eye-crossing reading for my Mercury piece the other day, I noticed a surprisingly large Mercury emitter in my "other" category (not a power plant). A Beaufort County company called PCS Phosphates emitted 260 pounds of Mercury from its stacks last year. That's right, over ten percent of the entire State's stack-air emissions of Mercury came from this single facility. This lovely plant also spewed tons of Ammonia and Methyl Isobutyl Ketones, with a dusting of Sulfuric Acid, Benzo Perylene, Lead and Manganese, just for flavor's sake. If our friends at the NC Conservation Network are still taking nominations for Pollution Superstars, jot down PCS Phosphates as my nomination, if'n you don't mind.
If you weren't already aware of this company's environmental impact, and you're wondering why you don't know, wonder no longer:
Made cash donations to local community organizations totaling $225,000 in 2008; main recipients were the United Way, Aurora Fossil Museum, East Carolina University, Capital Area YMCA and Public Radio East.
Made in-kind contributions totaling $95,611 to Bonner Boy Scout Camp, Pantego Volunteer Fire Department, Pamlico County, Belhaven Fire Department and City of Washington.
Held 65 meetings with state legislators, regulators or their aides in 2008, at which we discussed mine continuation, air quality permits and regulatory inspections.
The fertilizer business is extremely profitable, and PCS Phosphates and its parent company Potash wrote the book on how to lobby. Which *sigh* brings me back around to our precious wetlands. A battle has been going on for years between environmentalists and this polluter over plans to greatly expand their phosphate mining. From our friends at the Southern Environmental Law Center(SELC):
The Albemarle-Pamlico Sound is one of the most productive North American fisheries, generating thousands of jobs and over $1 billion annually. Unfortunately, this valuable ecosystem has been put at risk by a phosphate mining operation in Beaufort County that would result in the largest single destruction of wetlands in North Carolina’s history, causing irreversible impacts to the region’s tourism and fishing future.
PCS Phosphate is seeking to mine 11,000 acres, including 4,000 acres of wetlands and about five miles of tidal creeks and streams bordering the Pamlico River. The planned destruction is so massive that PCS has asked the state for permission to relieve it of the legal obligation to offset its impacts by restoring natural buffers, and instead be held to less effective means of mitigation.
The area the company seeks to mine will permanently damage primary fishing habitat where both economically important commercial and recreational fish species spend all or part of their life cycle. Destroying these important fisheries will impact this region long after PCS has left the area, and there are no mitigation measures that can reverse this damage. This is to say nothing of the impacts the destruction of wetlands and tidal creeks will have on the region’s tourism and other important parts of the region’s economy.
In spite of all of the reasons why our government should refuse to allow this to happen, the Army Corps of Engineers, the EPA and the NCDWQ have all taken positions that help to facilitate this travesty.
If anybody reading this has any power or influence that can be brought to bear on this issue, I'm asking you to use it now. If you've been saving it up for something special, this one's it.
BlueNC is dedicated to freedom and fairness for the people of North Carolina. If you share that vision, welcome. If your intention is to disrupt our efforts, please find somewhere else to express your opinions.