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Published: Feb 03, 2006 12:30 AM
Modified: Feb 03, 2006 03:30 AM
Port in a storm
A new port's environmental impact on Brunswick County needs close scrutiny before the state commits to the project
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Tapping Triangle's energy
Hitting 'em again
Port in a storm
A harsh price
Aiming at oil...
Initially, the N.C. Ports Authority's talk of building an international port near the mouth of the Cape Fear River had a pie-in-the-sky quality to it. Yet based on all the business interest it's generating, the project clearly is a contender.
Three companies have approached the state about entering into a partnership. They are just the sort of heavyweights that could actually raise the $600 million North Carolina needs from a private partner to make the project go. If it does, plenty of North Carolinians, including many who need a job, would stand to benefit from all the business activity the port would generate.
But a port in Brunswick County also must be judged on the impact it's likely to have on local water quality, plants and wildlife. What's more, it needs to stack up favorably against port expansions in nearby states. Far too little information exists now to make those calls.
Still, it would make sense for the Council of State to approve the purchase of 620 acres near Southport in Brunswick County when it meets Tuesday. The county has been trying to persuade the drug company Pfizer to sell the industrial site for years, and another opportunity may not present itself again soon. The state wants a port large enough to compete with the ports of Savannah, Ga., Charleston, S.C., and Norfolk, Va.
Of North Carolina's two current state ports, the one at Morehead City isn't equipped to handle the cargo containers that shippers use nowadays. The larger Wilmington facility, further up the Cape Fear from Southport, can handle containers, but without room to expand, it is expected to reach capacity within a decade. In Southport there's elbow room.
With 4,000 feet of access to the Cape Fear River, the Pfizer site is a good bet to increase in value while environmental impact data are gathered. That's important, because an environmental assessment of the proposed port is expected to take three to five years.
It's worth the effort to make sure the project wouldn't do unacceptable damage to the site and its surroundings. Brunswick County's sprawling wetlands help cleanse water of pollutants, creating a nursery for marine life in the process. Among North Carolina's 100 counties, Brunswick with its swampy lowlands also has one of the largest inventories of rare animals and plants, including the famous bug-eating Venus flytrap.
True, the port site is no nature preserve. Its habitats were overtaken by industrial activity long ago. But new highways and railroads undoubtedly will be needed to move cargo out of the port, and road construction could well affect tightly regulated wetlands in the vicinity.
In addition, the river channel will have to be dredged 10 feet deeper to accommodate ships capable of carrying large loads of cargo containers. That understandably worries the town manager of Bald Head Island, which saw 300 feet of land disappear next to the channel during the last dredging project.
Some environmental degradation would be the likely effect of any project of an international port's magnitude. And the public has a right to expect that such effects will be forecast in the Ports Authority's environmental impact statement. They will be important factors in a decision that must weigh the value of a clean environment against the need for jobs to support families.
For much the same reason, a wave of East Coast port expansions also needs monitoring. Only a major increase in shipping business would justify the added capacity -- with the environmental impact it brings -- that is proposed for Savannah, Charleston and, soon, North Carolina. Only the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which issues wetlands and dredging permits, is in a position to look at the regional tradeoffs, and it should oblige.Originally Posted by [bQuote[/b] ]http://www.newsobserver.com/579/story/395693.html