Shame on us

Sad news for Southeastern North Carolina—and beyond. Titan America announced on March 10, 2016 that “project economics no longer support the construction of a cement plant” near Castle Hayne in New Hanover County. (Link below)

After nearly eight years of verbal and legal assaults by a cabal of radical, irrational environmentalists on the company and its regional subsidiary Carolinas Cement, Titan CEO, Bill Zarkalis, gave the primary reason for suspending construction of the plant: costs to construct new cement plants “have risen substantially in the past few years.” Of course they have—and in this county we know why.

Those of us residing here who have followed malicious dragged out events understand why costs of plant construction are now prohibitive. Radical group actions were largely responsible.

In 2008 Titan America folks came into the county welcomed by business people and local politicians. No responsible person at that time assumed that this new industry would have negative effects on anyone. Titan people were excited about their plans to build a new state-of-the-art cement production plant on an old plant site in an industrial area north of the city of Wilmington. They came with good will and malice toward none.

Company employees invited the public to information meetings. Literature describing all aspects of cement production was available. They held convention-style events where we could learn first-hand about every aspect of operations, monitoring, safety and environmental protection practices. We could talk to engineers and management people one-on-one.

The company even offered expense-paid trips to a relatively new operating plant near Roanoke, Virginia where we could learn about plant operations from managers and staff. We had opportunities to meet with local residents and politicians to question their experiences living near the cement plant—no problems.

Unfortunately, very few people from this area took advantage of that opportunity; those of us who did learned a lot about cement plants and the benign impact on their surroundings.

The proposed plant here would bring 1,000 new construction jobs and more than 160 full-time, highly paid operations employees. Titan America’s facility would have contributed an estimated half-billion dollar tax base to the county.

At first, and despite these opportunities to learn about the plant and its operations, a small cabal of professional environmental activists at the N.C. Coastal Federation, demanded “answers” from company officials. Soon it became clear that these agitators were not interested in learning anything; the mission according to their motto became “Stop Titan.”

Then, the usual suspects—“waterkeepers,” the Sierra Club, the Southern Environmental Law Center and others—joined a vigorous campaign to discredit the company, slander officials and spread alarm about undocumented harm they said the plant would cause. They used the local press, rallies and gullible residents to incite public fear and suspicion toward the company.

Carolinas Cement people were surprised at the intensity and maliciousness of the Stop Titan campaign. But, undaunted they went about their business and continued to follow all the State and federal regulatory permitting procedures, including long, expensive environmental impact studies. None of this satisfied the radicals hell-bent to prevent the plant operation.

Nonprofit—but well funded—Southern Environmental Law Center and other lawyers embedded in UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University worked beyond public scrutiny to subvert the State permitting process using frivolous lawsuits and compliant judges. This tactic worked to cost the company time and money. Proof of this came from reactions to the recent Titan announcement by an arrogant, smug operative with the Coastal Federation.

Mike Giles “celebrated” the news with a bottle of champagne. A Wilmington StarNews reporter quoted Giles:  “Titan says they’re not building the plant for economic reasons? The economic reason is for eight years, we cost them money…that was the trigger.” Clearly, Giles believes his group’s subversive activities killed the project—their agenda from the beginning.

A great injustice has been perpetrated on the people of this region by a small group of self-serving, deceitful people in the Stop Titan Action Network. They used their pagan religion of environmentalism as a ruse to prevent the legitimate development of natural resources valuable to improve the lives of millions of people. They hatched legal schemes, distortions and false testimony against cement companies and the Titan people.

Lesser activities have led to legal charges against people who create economic damage.

During the past eight years I have come to personally know many of the Titan folks. They are a family of decent Americans who serve their industry well and contribute mightily to local and regional economies. They take pride in their work and the resulting benefits to our welfare.

They do not deserve the bad (in my opinion, criminal) treatment they have received. I believe that a great majority of people in this region have no quarrel with the Titan people or the cement industry—they have been deceived by the radicals.

We should be ashamed of ourselves. Titan America people came to us in good faith with intentions of doing creative things: offering to make valuable products from a now lost natural resource—laying under a wet, mucky wasteland. Titan people would have increased wealth and prosperity for our region. We let them down.

And we are poorer morally and economically because we have failed to challenge a few self-righteous, no-nothings who schemed to damage reputations and prevent good works. They had to use deceitful tactics because they had no rational reasons to oppose the plant.

In my opinion, radicals never would have succeeded in their mischief had the local press done investigative journalism; had the larger body of citizens learned the true motives of the Stop Titan Action Network—a conspiratorial environmental spider web of deceit; and had our politicians and business people mustered the courage to denounce these subversives.

Thus, we are left with great losses. I predict we will regret falling for the false preaching of environmental prophets who have succeeded in another great hoax and now gleefully celebrate their destructive deeds.

The hostility shown toward Titan people is unconscionable. Never again can anyone in this part of the State of North Carolina claim that it is “business friendly.”

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About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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