The Controversy Continues with New Hanover County’s Industrial Special Use Permit

The North Carolina Coastal Federation is leading the My Community: My Voice Campaign to engage citizens and business leaders to help prevent polluting industry and support clean and responsible economic growth in New Hanover County by adopting an improved Industrial Special Use Permit (SUP) for heavy industry. Louis Bacon, The Moore Charitable Foundation and the affiliate Orton Foundation are strong supporters of NCCF and the improved SUP campaign, which has strong business and community support and envisions a bright future for all. However, recent actions taken by the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) are stalling the process. We recently received the following note from Jennifer Salter, NCCF’s Clean Communities Organizer and the The North Carolina Coastal Federation Advocacy Team and are publishing it in full here. Please take note of next steps below. 

Envisioning a bright future for New Hanover County: an improved Industrial Special Use Permit (SUP) for heavy industry. Stalling it could hurt the Cape Fear River.

Envisioning a bright future for New Hanover County: an improved Industrial Special Use Permit (SUP) for heavy industry. Stalling it could hurt the Cape Fear River.

On Monday, November 14, with more than a hundred people in attendance and a dozen people lined up to speak, the current New Hanover County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) voted to postpone the public hearing on the two year-long effort led by the federation and the community that focused on developing a more comprehensive Special Use Permit (SUP) for a small number of high-risk intensive industrial applicants. The Industrial SUP proposal included an extended timeline, community involvement and notification, and for the most impactful heavy industry uses a disclosure of external impacts that could pose a risk to local public health, environment, and natural resources, such as water quality and quantity.

As a result of the BOCC decision, the New Hanover County Planning Board held its fourth work session on November 15 from 2 PM – 5 PM to review the county planning staff’s proposed SUP text A-425 amendments. Although the NHC Planning Board is in support of a required community information meeting and an extended timeline (35 business days) for review of intensive industrial applicants, the majority of Planning Board recommends DELETING all requirements for intensive industries to disclose anticipated external effects of their proposed project upon the community. The majority of the Planning Board did not think it was fair for intensive industry applicants “to testify against themselves” and that requiring an intensive industry applicant to disclose their proposed project details is a burden to the applicant and is troublesome.

We disagree. Take for example the disclosure process that is common in real-estate. A seller must provide disclosure about the condition and any issues about their property. This helps increase the buyer’s confidence that a seller is dealing fairly. This is analogous to how an SUP process utilizing best practices needs to include a disclosure of a review of external effects about its proposed project. This requirement is customary in the most urban and progressive counties in NC and was the cornerstone of the SUP language adopted by the Board of Commissioners in 2011. It is in the best interest of our community and minimizes the opportunity for the applicant to withhold information that is necessary for the Board of Commissioners to make informed decisions on whether an intensive industry is an appropriate use for our area.

During this most recent Planning Board work session, Hal Kitchin, of McGuireWoods LLP,  a legal representative for clients in industry and development interests, recommended alternative language requiring intensive industry to simply list “anticipated” permits from federal, state, and local agencies. This does not provide a full description of an intensive industrial applicant’s proposal and does not provide the needed clarity or objectiveness in the review process.

New Hanover County has a legacy of 29 superfund sites that were developed under the guise of state and federal oversight. State and federal regulatory agencies do not adequately protect a local region’s natural assets, including air and water quality and quantity.  As another example, no state or federal requirement currently exists to regulate the amount of groundwater that an industry may extract from the region.

Without a local SUP process of disclosure and an evaluation of impacts, an intensive industry could withdraw an unlimited volume of public groundwater resources, and potentially pollute this same water supply. In a county with predictions of increased growth which could affect the quantity and quality of clean drinking water, this scenario could have devastating impacts on our current residents, businesses, economy and human health. These experiences of existing and proposed intensive industries in New Hanover County demonstrate the need for an informed, educated local decision process with regard to whether certain heavy intensive industries are appropriate for this community.

What Happens Next

Another Planning Board work session is scheduled for December with a Planning Board public hearing in January with an anticipated action by the Board of Commissioners in February 2017. Stay tuned for those finalized dates and times.

What You Can Do

It is imperative our community stays engaged by writing Letters to the Editor, Op-Eds and meeting with the Planning Board members and the Board of Commissioners.

Thank you for your continued support and engagement,

The North Carolina Coastal Federation Advocacy Team

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