BEAUFORT COUNTY — A superior court judge here ruled Thursday that Blounts Creek area residents and others have the right to challenge a state permit issued to Martin Marietta that would allow the company to discharge 12 millions of gallons a day of mining wastewater into a popular area fishing creek.
Superior court Judge W. Douglas Parsons reversed a ruling by administrative court Judge Philip Berger Jr. that said citizens and environmental groups didn’t have standing to contest a Department of Environment and Natural Resources permit to allow Martin Marietta to pump the fresh, mineral-rich water from a proposed limestone quarry the mining company wants to build on 649 acres of a 1,600-acre tract east of Vanceboro, near the headwaters of the creek.
The company has said it wants to operate the mine responsibly and be a good neighbor but residents and visitors from across the state were vocal in their opposition. Opponents say 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.
The Southern Environmental Law Center represented in the case the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation, the N.C. Coastal Federation and other citizens and groups concerned about the effects the discharge could have on the creek.
“The earlier court’s ruling disregarded well-established state and federal laws that allow citizens who live downstream to protect our creeks and rivers when DENR and state government fail to do so,” said Geoff Gisler, senior attorney at the law center. “The scope of the earlier court decision would eliminate citizens’ right to enforce laws that protect favorite fishing and swimming holes as well as the water we drink.”
The judge ordered the case to be reconsidered in a full hearing by the Office of Administrative Hearings. No date has been set for the next hearing.