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Radio Island issues

The Annual Meeting of Crossroads on January 18, 2001 was an exciting one; an overflow crowd heard a lot of discussion of the proposed ethanol plant on Radio Island. Our aim was to bring as much information as possible to the public to aid in making rational decisions on development of the State Port. We want economic development but we also want to protect the environment, which is essential to long-term prosperity.

Now DFI has abandoned the Radio Island ethanol plant and a different company is planning a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) storage and distribution terminal on Port property. It appears that the plans are to receive LNG by ship and distribute it by pipeline. Again, we think that much more needs to be disclosed about the safety and economic and environmental consequences of such a facility before approval is given.

The Port has completed an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed expansion of docking, storage and shipping facilities on Radio Island. An EIS must be prepared for any other major expansion such as a LNG terminal. Most importantly, the Port should publicly discuss long-range plans with the public. The Port does not operate in a vacuum. Decisions made by the Port affect the public at large, the environment and the economic health of our major industries.

Even before the LNG announcement, Crossroads was planning a public meeting on Port development and plans for expansion. Look for a public information meeting on this subject the middle of March. We will publicize it when plans are firm. We will have speakers from the Port, experts on LNG and someone with knowledge of shipping hazards of LNG.

Meanwhile, we think it important to review the information disclosed at the Annual Meeting. Many of the issues discussed are pertinent to a LNG terminal. The following report is from notes by several Board members.


The Proposed Ethanol Plant on Radio Island

The President of Crossroads, Dick Bierly called the meeting to order and introduced the moderator, Dr. Mike Orbach, Director of Duke Marine Lab. Dr. Orbach stated the purpose of the meeting: to disseminate information and answer questions, but not to receive statements from the audience.

He listed points to consider, including water supply and disposal, hazardous materials (effluents to air and water, accidents, spills, natural disasters), flood plain issues, transportation issues (land and water), socio-economic impacts (jobs, taxes), aesthetics (odor, noise, viewscapes ), community characteristics and direction, regional characteristics and direction.  A decision on the desirability of this proposal requires a full, open and public participation process.

Randy Martin, Morehead City Town Manager, emphasized that no permits have yet been requested, and that permitting is a long process involving citizen input. If Morehead annexes the Port property and if the project proceeds, it would be the role of Morehead City to provide water and sewer services to the plant but not disposal of process wastewater.  Morehead City has not made any commitment to DFI and has not taken any position.  When and if the time comes, “the Morehead City Council will act in a responsible manner.”

Mr. Stromberg, Executive Director, N C Ports Authority, noted that the proposed ethanol plant is a great potential opportunity for the Port.  There are 200 acres available on Radio Island for development.  DFI approached the Ports Authority last spring to discuss a possible ethanol plant.  After DFI receives a lease option for about 50 acres of Port property, DFI will apply for permits. If the proposal goes forward, DFI will make all the necessary improvements.  A one-year option on the property to DFI will be considered at the Ports Authority meeting on January 30 (later postponed).

Questions: Who are the partners in DFI? “Can not say”.  Will the port be closed during handling of LNG?  Mr. Stromberg answered yes, but deferred to the Coast Guard for details.  Why obtain an option on land before beginning permitting?  Necessary to have an option before beginning permitting process. Mr. Stromberg also noted that the Port will develop a strategic plan in February/March and will share it with the public.

Ed Stahl, DFI, Inc. then discussed the current plans. DFI is a development company established in 1981 by Bill Horton, President. Representatives of DFI first discussed the ethanol facility with local officials in August 2000.  He said that DFI is “committed to improving the life of the people of North Carolina” and promised that if that doesn’t seem possible, they will reconsider their plans.  He repeated several times that DFI is committed to “not do anything that would not improve the quality of life of eastern North Carolina”. 

There are about 50 ethanol plants in the US, some still under construction, and most in “corn country”.  He noted that ethanol production is forecast to double or triple in the next eight years.  It will probably replace methyl t-butyl ether (MTBE) as an oxygenate which is added to gasoline to provide lower emissions from gas engines and thus cleaner air.  It would also reduce oil imports.  Twelve percent of the corn grown today goes into ethanol production. Corn and possibly sweet potatoes grown in North Carolina would be the feedstock.  Much of the transportation would be by barge and rail. No final drawings of the local proposed plant are yet available.  LNG would be used to generate the steam used in the process.  DFI is committed to a thorough EIS.  Mr. Stahl said, “this plant will not smell”. It will be better than any existing plant, having 97% of the odor removed, using a technology proven in other types of plants but not yet used in any ethanol plants.

The water withdrawal from the Castle-Hayne aquifer is estimated at about 1 million gallons/day.  He said that no "process water" will be discharged into the estuary, only the water from the cooling towers (about 250,000 gallons per day into the Newport River), and that will be at ambient temperature. "Domestic waste", about 10,000 gallons/day, will go to the Morehead City wastewater treatment plant.  Air emissions are expected to be well within permit limits.  Site safety measures will be above requirements. Barges will be the primary method of transportation but truck and train will also be used with an average of about one additional train (65 to 100 cars) per week and less than 2 additional trucks per hour through Morehead City and Beaufort.

Economic impact: the plant would provide about 125 jobs at a scale  $6000 higher than the local average, with a yearly payroll of $3.4M.  Additional taxes and revenues would accrue.  In addition, a possible LNG terminal would enable more industrial development in eastern North Carolina. A LNG facility serving a larger area might involve an additional investment of $1 billion.

Safety of LNG: there has not been a LNG accident in the US for 50 years.  When exposed to the air it becomes a lighter-than-air gas that will not explode.  Weather risks are minimal because the plant will be 2 feet above the 100-year flood level. The existing fuel tanks on Radio Island have had no significant storm related damage.

Mr. Stahl responded to other statements that have been made: Garbage will not be used as a fuel or for any other purpose.  There will be no odor, including ammonia.  There will be no land application of any process chemicals, no cyclohexane.  No industrial waste to the Morehead City wastewater treatment plant.  No use of hog waste. No attempts to withhold information from the public.   

In answers to questions, Mr. Stahl stated the building contractor would be Century Contractors, which has 20 years of experience with ethanol plants.  The discharge into the estuary will not be discernable 100 feet beyond the point of discharge.  DFI is examining the possibility of re-use of water. Are we anticipating a huge LNG terminal as a major goal of this facility? – “Our interest is in LNG only for use in the ethanol plant, but since LNG will be at the Port the possibility to enlarge LNG activity exists.”  In answer to a question whether a plant built to the no-smell specifications exists, it was stated that a plant in Canada has achieved a 99% reduction in odor.

Dr. Richard Spruill, East Carolina University then spoke about Water Supply Issues.  The water resources in this area are in “confined aquifers”.  That results in water rising in wells, and permits upconing and lateral encroachment of saltwater.  The Castle-Hayne aquifer, 500 feet thick in the Radio Island area, is the preferred aquifer here. Saltwater intrusion from overpumping is a potential problem. Also, wells affect the water level in adjacent wells, especially those in close proximity. Wells must be properly spaced at the right depth and pumped at the correct rate to sustain the water supply. A question: do they need fresh water? In answer to a question Dr. Spruill stated that if shallow wells in the county run dry, deeper ones would have to be drilled.

Edith McKinney, N C Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) spoke on the State Permitting Process.  Permitting is a thorough, complicated process covering many parameters and requiring detailed information.  To date DENR has not received any permit applications.  An EIS will provide the first opportunity for public comment.  The applicant will then answer questions raised and submit applications for permits. It could involve 13 or 14 separate permits (e.g., water quality, air quality, land quality, etc.), and the public has the opportunity to review each of these.  The DENR toll free telephone number is 1-877-623-6748 for customer service.  The phone number of the regional Wilmington office is 1-910-790-2317.

Ms. McKinney: One of the required documents for permitting requires the applicant to consider secondary and cumulative effects. In response to a statement that other plants in eastern NC do not meet promised specifications, Ms. McKinney replied that the State would be diligent in the permitting process and in enforcement.

Wayne Nottingham of the N C Dept. of Transportation spoke on DOT plans in regard to Radio Island.  The DOT has not received any information on this proposed project before this evening and therefore cannot make much comment.  DOT would ask the developer to provide data on the project and then might need to do infrastructure studies, such as turning lanes, etc.  Regarding the Gallant’s Channel Bridge to Beaufort, he said that the present bridge is currently “over capacity”.  It is anticipated that they will begin buying land in 2005 for construction in 2007 of a new bridge. Planning to double the existing high-rise bridge between Morehead City and Radio Island may begin by 2008.  The earliest time to begin on the northern bypass would be 2008.

Deborah Van Dyken of Carteret Citizens Allied to Protect the Environment (C-CAPE) provided opinions of this group as “Citizen Input”. She maintains that the plant will discharge into the air approximately 1,000,000 pounds of pollutants per year, including ammonia, nitrogen, sulfur and volatile organic materials. It will produce a strong chemical odor and will discharge about 800,000 gallons per day of hot water with biocides (chemicals that kill bacteria) into the waters of the harbor (heat and biocides specifically refuted by Mr. Stahl). Storm water runoff will flow into the harbor with a rainfall of more than 1-1/2 inches.

Also, the plant will use at least 1,000,000 gallons per day of groundwater from the Castle-Hayne aquifer. It will increase barge, train and truck traffic in our communities. The associated LNG facility will supply LNG to DFI and other commercial users all along the East Coast. The ethanol plant will provide 35 – 125 jobs, most of which will be hazardous and low paying. It will discharge the plant’s industrial wastewater to the Morehead City wastewater treatment plant. 

The Radio Island site is in a flood plain, can be flooded with hurricanes, and is prone to lightning strikes and high winds. Hazardous air pollution from the plant can affect air quality and the community’s health. The strong chemical odor and water and air pollution may hurt the tourist industry, lower property values, decrease the county’s tax base, and severely impact the communities that are downwind from the plant. The hot water and biocides from the non-contact cooling waters can damage local fishery habitats. The large amount of well water pumped by the plant may result in wells in Beaufort and Atlantic Beach not being able to produce enough water for their current needs and salt water may enter the groundwater due to the increased pumping. The increased barge, train and truck traffic will increase air pollution and expose the community to hazardous materials as these materials travel through our community on a daily basis.

A LNG facility is too hazardous to be sited on a flood plain with communities nearby, subjecting people to potential explosions, fires, toxic spills and dangers to recreational and commercial boating and puts in jeopardy our current way of life.


It was an excellent meeting although many in the audience thought the full story was not revealed. There is great uncertainty as to the benefits and problems associated with this proposed facility. Although the ethanol plant has been set aside for now, similar questions apply to the proposed LNG facility. We at Crossroads are committed to getting answers to the public.

Watch for the announcement of our next meeting,

to be held mid-March, on Port Development.