North Carolina Supreme Court to hear Blounts Creek lawsuit
Posted at 11:28 a.m. Friday, March 10, 2023
The North Carolina Supreme Court will take up a case originally filed a decade ago regarding sewage dumped into Blounts Creek.
The April 27 hearing will feature limestone mining company Martin Marietta Materials and Sound Rivers residents and business owners, the North Carolina Coastal Federation and Blounts Creek. The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) represents environmental groups.
In 2013, the state of North Carolina issued a wastewater discharge permit to Martin Marietta, but SELC challenged the permit on the grounds that it failed to protect Blounts Creek. The permit would allow the company to build a mine in the area, which would pump about 12 million gallons of wastewater (considered fresh) from the mine into a fresh inflow in upper Blounts Creek. A tributary is a freshwater stream that flows into a larger stream or river. Blounts Creek Bay has brackish water that flows into the Pamlica River.
SELC of Sound Rivers and the North Carolina Coastal Federation challenged the permit, arguing that the discharge of fresh water flowing into brackish water would be harmful to the environment. Citing the EPA and the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, Sound Rivers and the NC Coastal Federation say the fresh water will alter the stream’s natural flow, water pH levels and permanently alter the diversity of fish and their abundant habitat.
Sound Rivers Executive Director Heather Deck said, “Experts have consistently testified throughout this process — the permitting process — that dumping this much water into this creek will permanently change the creek … It will turn a coastal plain creek into something that looks nothing like a coastal plain stream.’
Martin Marietta appealed to the North Carolina Supreme Court, arguing that Sound Rivers and the North Carolina Coastal Federation lacked standing to hear the case; therefore, they should not have been able to challenge the permit. However, the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals disagreed and continued the case.
“We want to protect the right of citizens to challenge such permits now and in the future, because all these laws were actually drafted. We know that the government sometimes makes mistakes,” Dec said.
Shortly after the permit was issued, it was revoked by a North Carolina Supreme Court judge; however, it was reinstated seven years later when a state appeals court overturned the lower court’s ruling. By then, and since then, the permit has expired. In 2020, SELC, on behalf of Sound Rivers and other stakeholders, asked the state Supreme Court to review the appeals court’s decision to uphold the permit.
That means the appeals court would have allowed Martin Marietta to get a wastewater discharge permit, but SELC and Sound Rivers wanted the state Supreme Court to read the appeals court’s decision in hopes it could be overturned in favor of protecting the creek.
Martin Marietta of North Carolina State and Sound Rivers and the North Carolina Coastal Federation of SELC have waited three years for the state Supreme Court to hear the case, which is scheduled for April 27.
Deck said she doesn’t expect the Supreme Court to rule on the 27th.
Reflecting on the fact that the case has dragged on for a decade, Deck said it has been difficult. “We’re just happy to finally have our day in court. I sincerely believe that the legal system will ultimately protect not only the rights of citizens to challenge permits, but also protect the integrity of Blounts Creek.”