Blounts Creek battle wages on … slowly

Awaiting a date to be heard by the North Carolina Supreme Court, Sound Rivers remains dedicated to protecting the popular fishing creek.

“It’s still before the North Carolina Supreme Court. It has not been calendared, and we don’t know when that is going to happen,” said Heather Deck, executive director of Sound Rivers. “But our commitment hasn’t wavered, hasn’t changed, to finding a long-term solution to protect the creek.”

The case has bounced around the court system since 2013, when the Southern Environmental Law Center filed the original petition arguing that the permit issued by the Division of Water Resources failed to protect the waters of Blounts Creek. The permit would allow a Martin Marietta Materials’ limestone mine to discharge up to 12 million gallons of water per day into the popular fishing creek in Beaufort County — a prospect that could permanently change the creek’s flow, its pH and its diversity of fish and high-quality fish habitats.

In the lead-up to granting the permit, state wildlife agencies and the Environmental Protection Agency objected to the plan, and DWR’s lead biologist said the wastewater-flooded creek would be unlike any creek naturally found in eastern North Carolina. Under federal and state law, North Carolina cannot authorize discharges that will violate water quality standards by changing the natural mix of wildlife in a water body, but, in the final permit, DWR did not require any significant changes to address the issues.

In the spring, the North Carolina Court of Appeals overturned an earlier Superior Court ruling voiding the permit, and the wait for a day in the N.C. Supreme Court began.

For Sound Rivers, the challenge to the permit is just as much about protecting the creek as it is about “standing” — the average citizen’s right to challenge the process.

“One of the things that Martin Marietta keeps pushing is this part about standing. They just keep trying to change the way the law is applied to restrict people’s access to the courts,” Deck said. “This is a broader battle for the public’s right to challenge permits, because we know that government sometimes gets it wrong.”

Deck encouraged members to check the website for updates or subscribe to Sound Rivers eNews.