04/05/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Can Grass Roots Organizations Take On a Corporate Giant?

Citizens United Against Cement Plant in North Carolina

That is a good question. In the state of North Carolina, this is an especially interesting and complicated one, especially when it comes to backroom dealings, corrupt state officials, and citizens demanding to be informed and heard.

New Hanover County in the Southeastern corner of North Carolina is becoming the battleground for a war between Titan America, which wants to operate a major cement plant in the northern part of the county, and citizens' groups who are opposed to the plant. The citizens' groups, including Citizens Against Titan Cement,, question the safety of having a major cement-producing facility so close to schools and neighborhoods. Carolinas Cement Company, a subsidiary of Titan America, has been touting the creation of roughly 2000 jobs during the construction of the plant and the 300-400 that the plant will employ once the plant is running as one of the greatest benefits of the plant in the area.

The proposed site for the plant is the site of former Ideal Cement, which closed in the 1980's. Despite the jobs it provided, the cement plant is not always remembered fondly. Former Castle Hayne resident Willis Haynes spent 15 years working almost every job in the Ideal Cement plant. The worst, however, is not the hard labor, but rather, the constant trail of dust. "It'll fall on your cars. Your cars will kind of feel like sandpaper. And the only places in that cement plant you didn't have to wear a respirator was the control room, the lab, and the office. Anywhere else it was dusty. And there was places so dusty you could not see your hand in front of you."

The adverse environmental impact is what has residents of the surrounding areas worried. Not only are grass roots organizations up in arms against the proposed plant, so are national environmental groups such as Sierra Club and Audubon Society as well as more local groups such as North Carolina Conservation Network, Cape Fear Riverwatch, North Carolina Coastal Federation, Friends of the Lower Cape Fear, just to name a few. The delicate ecosystem of the Cape Fear region supported by intricate waterways, unique fauna such as Venus Fly Trap and other carnivorous plants, are especially at risk from the potential hazards of the plant. However, the ill effect of mercury, which will be emitted from the plant into the air, is what concerns prominent doctors, especially pediatricians, most. Many have come out vocally against the plant since mercury is a known toxic pollutant especially harmful to children.

The fact that the former governor Mike Easley, during whose tenure the initial permit for the plant was issued, is under SBI investigation for corruption, has given the opponents of the plant ammunition with which to fight the permit process. On Feb. 1, Citizens Against Titan Cement, organized a rally outside the County Commissioners' meeting. Protest organizer Kayne Darrell of the Citizens Against Titan, presented a petition with nearly 6,000 signatures of people opposed to Titan to the New Hanover County Commissioners, asking them to pass a resolution requesting Governor Bev Perdue freeze all permits for Titan Cement until the SBI investigation into corruption in the permit process is complete. She also asked them to request the Governor require Titan to undergo a State Environmental Policy Act review. Others asked the commission to rescind the $4.2 milliion in incentives the County Commissioners approved in April 2008, since recent news reports reveal the company grossly misrepresented its environmental record to the commissioners, WID, and the community, and have actively tried to avoid a comprehensive state environmental review of the project.

Watch the coverage of the rally below:

Through the hard work of citizens such as Darrell and those behind with their ubiquitous signs in every neighborhood (find the sign below), the opposition to the plant seems to be growing steadily. The latest poll being conducted by a local TV station shows over 60% of the area viewers opposing the plant. Despite this vocal opposition to the plant from all sides, from citizens' groups and environmental as well as doctors' groups, the County Commissioners have remained silent on the issue according to Wilmington's Star News.


Can citizens stand up to an industrial giant? It's been a tumultuous year and a half for the residents of New Hanover County, and it promises to continue to be a tumultuous ride for some time to come.