10/12/08 — Lawsuit filed to halt Sampson zoning

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Lawsuit filed to halt Sampson zoning

By Steve Herring
Published in News on October 12, 2008 2:00 AM

A Duplin County environmental group has filed suit in Superior Court contesting the procedure Sampson County commissioners employed to rezone property for a proposed poultry litter-burning "incinerator" that will produce electricity.

The lawsuit filed by Citizens for a Safe Environment seeks to have the zoning declared invalid and asks for any relief that the court grants that is "just and reasonable, including attorneys' fees and expenses, if appropriate."

Meanwhile, the project is proceeding, Sampson County Manager Scott Saurer said.

Fibrowatt, a Pennsylvania-based company, plans to build the $200 million facility at the N.C. 403 and Interstate 40 interchange in Sampson County about three miles west of Faison. The plant is expected to create about 100 jobs. The county has offered about $2 million in incentives over a 10-year period, according to the suit.

The lawsuit calls the commissioners' decision "arbitrary and capricious, contrary to law and in a manner that was an abuse of discretion and made with disregard for the due process and equal protection rights of the petitioners."

It alleges that attempts to obtain public records regarding the county's recruitment efforts toward Fibrowatt have been "unduly delayed."

Also, it alleges that previous actions and statements by commissioners "show conclusively that most" of the commissioners had "unequivocally made up their minds in support" of the plant prior to public hearings on the matter.

Along with contesting the rezoning, the group alleges that residents in northeast Sampson County and northern Duplin County will be adversely affected by the plant because of "noxious odors, toxic emissions, increased truck traffic on rural roads and highways, the loss of the use and enjoyment of their property, the loss of property values and interference with their health, safety and general welfare."

"I am concerned that the air pollutants emitted from this proposed facility would adversely affect citizens' health -- especially those with pre-existing respiratory problems,' said Deborah Kornegay of Calypso, co-chair of Citizens for a Safe Environment.

She added that the company's claim that its plant is cleaner than coal-fired power plants is refuted by information from the N.C. Division of Air Quality.

"It shows that poultry litter is more polluting than new coal plants in all areas except sulfur dioxide," she said.

Citizens for a Safe Environment, a chapter of the Blue Ridge Defense League, was formed in 2000 to oppose a multi-state landfill from being built near Calypso. It has been successful in those efforts.

Duplin County will challenge the claim, Saurer said.

"We are proceeding with the projects the board has endorsed and supported and Fibrowatt is one," he said. "It is exciting and will be an enhancement to the poultry industry. It is a cutting-edge approach to protecting the environment while ensuring a steady food supply."

Last month, another citizens' group, Sampson County Concerned Citizens, sent letters to local, state and national leaders voicing opposition to the plant.

Along with the health and traffic concerns, the letter contends that by "design or accident" the facility would be placed near a "predominately poor and African-American community."

That complaint got the attention of the NAACP, which is conducting its own investigation.

In an interview last month, Terry Walmsley, Fibrowatt vice president for environmental and public affairs, sought to assuage concerns about pollution, traffic and odors.

He said the company had been open about its plans and that he was surprised by the opposition. Also, he said one reason the site was selected was because it has few residents. Comments about selecting it because the residents are mostly poor and African-American are unfounded, he said.

Walmsley said the power plant is not an incinerator and using that word to describe the plant was an attempt to instill fear.

In an Oct. 6 letter to Sampson County commissioners, the Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, wrote that the organization opposes use of public money on the project.

Barber reiterated fears of pollution of the community's soil and groundwater and the potential for accidents caused by the increase in truck traffic.

"This plant will not attract diverse industries to the proposed site, it will be harmful to existing businesses, specifically the agriculture industries," Barber wrote.

In the letter, Barber suggests a meeting between NAACP and Fibrowatt officials. He added that copies of the letter were being sent to Gov. Mike Easley, as well as to gubernatorial candidates Beverly Perdue, Pat McCrory and Michael Munger inviting them to the meeting.

A portion of the proposed site falls within the Town of Faison's extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ). The company and town have been negotiating for several months to resolve who will exercise zoning control.

During his interview, Walmsley said the company and county are looking at ways to locate the plant on the site so as to not involve the Faison ETJ.