Fight for Blounts Creek continues with new petition
Thursday, January 5, 2017
Two Eastern North Carolina environmental organizations have filed a petition asking the courts to vacate a state permit that allows Martin Marietta Materials to discharge millions of gallons of water each day from a proposed quarry into Blounts Creek.
Blounts Creek, located east of Chocowinity, starts as a narrow creek that begins in a swamp and slowly grows wider as it twists and turns heading north. People like to boat, fish and photograph in and along the creek, which empties into the Pamlico River.
Martin Marietta Materials (MMM), a company that owns other quarries in North Carolina, applied for and received a permit from the N.C. Division of Water Resources (DNR) to release clean water from a new mining operation it plans to build at the headwaters of the creek.
Opponents, who are represented by Sound Rivers Inc. and the North Carolina Coastal Federation Inc., fought the permit, saying the discharge would change the nature of the creek and the swamp and harm the fish and other aquatic wildlife that live there.
They fought the permit in court, but in late November, Administrative Law Judge Philip E. Berger Jr. issued a final decision from the Office of Administrative Hearings upholding the permit that allows Martin Marietta to discharge the water into the creek. The Office of Administrative Hearings is an independent quasi-judicial agency established to provide judges to preside in administrative law contested cases.
“The Final Decision upholds the Division of Water Resources’ issuance of a permit that will transform Blounts Creek, a beloved fishing destination in Beaufort County, into a type of creek that does not exist naturally in the North Carolina coastal plain,” the petition states.
The petition asks a superior court judge to reverse Berger’s ruling. It states that Sound Rivers and the Coastal Federation’s rights are protected by the Clean Water Act and that they were substantially prejudiced; that the Division of Water Resources violated the biological integrity standard by issuing the permit; that the DNR violated the pH water quality standard by issuing the permit; that DNR violated the swamp waters classification and antidegradation rule by issuing the permit; and that the required monitoring provisions cannot excuse expected violations of water quality standards.
Blounts Creek provides habitat to striped bass, river herring, American and hickory shad, largemouth bass, yellow perch, white perch, black crappie, chain pickerel, redfin pickerel, American eel, red drum, southern flounder and spotted sea trout, among others. If the 12 million gallons of water is discharged into the creek each day, it could change and harm their habitats and spawning grounds, the petition states.
In the petition, the groups claim that the final decision contains findings of fact that were unsupported by substantial evidence and that the findings were arbitrary, capricious and were affected by other errors of law.
It also claimed the final decision’s conclusion that the petitioners were not substantially prejudiced was erroneous.
It lists point after point of errors that it claims Berger made when he was determining the findings of fact that influenced his decision.
The 35-page petition was filed in Carteret County Superior Court by Geoffrey R. Gisler of the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents Sound Rivers and the Coastal Federation.
The North Carolina Coast Federation claims more than 10,000 members.
Contact Beth Velliquette at email@example.com or at 252-329-9566.