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Grassroots Environmental Group Takes On a Corporate Titan (America) in Wilmington, NC

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In February, 2010, I reported on the grassroot effort to derail Titan America's plan to build the 4th largest cement plant in the nation in Castle Hayne on Cape Fear River near Wilmington, NC. (For reasons for opposing the plant, click here.) The area, located in the Southeastern coastal region of the state, is home to unique and fragile ecosystems and their inhabitants, from the creeks and marshes that empty into the Atlantic to curiosities that grow naturally in the wild, such as Venus fly traps and other carnivorous plants.

The many loose groups opposing the plant, including citizens' groups such as Friends of the Lower Cape Fear and Citizens Against Titan, and environmental groups such as the N.C. Coastal Federation, Cape Fear River Watch, Penderwatch & Conservancy, the Cape Fear Group of the N.C. Sierra Club, Southern Environmental Law Center and Duke University Environmental Law & Policy Clinic, have now coalesced into a single coalition calling itself the "Stop Titan Action Network" (STAN).

Since my last post, more help has come to STAN from national organizations. It received a grant worth $1.13 million from the Educational Foundation of America, a non-profit group based in Connecticut that supports numerous citizens efforts around the country. The amount will be paid over 2 years. Oceana, an organization dedicated to ocean conservation, has been present in the area since July, 2010, raising awareness about offshore oil drilling and other issues relating to ocean pollution off of the coast of North Carolina.

More recently, Greenpeace's action ship, "Arctic Sunrise," was in Wilmington on January 22-23 as part of "Quit Coal" campaign. It coordinated efforts with University of North Carolina Wilmington's environmental group, UNCW ECO, to raise awareness about the air pollution in the area. Greenpeace and UNCW ECO hosted a day of "non-violent direct action" (NVDA) training and held a vigil at Progress Energy's 672 MW coal-fired Sutton plant on Cape Fear River. Greenpeace has produced a video from the weekend, highlighting both the existing danger of the Sutton plant and the imminent danger of the proposed cement plant.

STAN activists draw their hope from the case of Hudson, NY, where activists successfully stopped Saint Lawrence Cement from building a cement plant there. Two of these activists, Sam Pratt and Peter Jung, were present when the documentary about their fight, "Two Square Miles," was shown by STAN locally last year. Pratt and Jung gave a piece of advice to the local residents at the screening: "The people in the room, that's how you win. Spread the word and make it the center of your lives for a few years."

It remains to be seen what effect the citizens' actions will have on the proposed cement plant. The construction of the plant has so far been delayed for two years as the lawsuits asking to review the air pollution permit process have made their way through the courts. And now, Titan America has officially rejected the financial incentive from the county, which totals $4.2 million, in the hopes of not having to go through the more rigorous federal and state environmental review. And in January, a Superior Court judge has lifted the injunction freezing the company's air permit application.

STAN vows to continue the fight.

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