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Titan Cement plant would bring jobs, environmentally-friendly business, says Carolinas Cement GM

The site of Titan America's proposed cement plant as viewed from the Cape Fear River. The area once housed the Ideal plant.
The site of Titan America's proposed cement plant as viewed from the Cape Fear River. The area once housed the Ideal plant.

Titan America could break ground on a cement plant in Castle Hayne as early as 2015.  But before that happens, the company must secure several permits.  

In the meantime, a well-organized network, known as Stop Titan, is opposing the project.  The Southern Environmental Law Center is challenging Titan’s air quality permit on multiple grounds.  And two economists with UNCW’s Cameron School of Business just released an economic impact study attacking earlier positive projections. 

WHQR’s Rachel Lewis Hilburn recently talked with Bob Odom of Carolinas Cement -- the man in charge of the Castle Hayne project.


RLH:  There’s this whole movement called Stop Titan that has formed a network to oppose this plant.  What’s your reaction to that kind of community opposition?

BO:  I think that it’s a small, vocal, organized group of people.  I think you’d be surprised at the number of people that do support us.  But like – with a lot of things – they just don’t want to get involved with it.  I run into a lot of people everyday – and they say, “Well, what’s the big deal, Bob?  You’re bringing jobs.  You’re following the rules.  You’re providing a product that’s needed and you’re going to be paying taxes.”

Everybody wants something done in Wilmington but nobody wants to pay any taxes.  So where’s this money coming from?  The money’s going to come from companies like ourselves that’s going to have the state-of-the-art facility, the most efficient, the most environmentally-friendly plant in the world, the type of clean or environmentally-friendly industry that this business – that this area needs to grow.

RLH:  So you’re actually calling this a clean, environmentally-friendly industry?

BO:  Absolutely.

RLH:  A lot of people would take issue with that.  And you talked about a state-of-the-art facility but I know some environmentalists would still say, “You’re still talking about heavy industry.  And heavy industry, by definition, means that there’s a certain amount of pollution that comes with it.”

BO:  It is heavy industry, yes.  Will there be some pollution?  Yes.  But are we following all the rules and regulations that are in place to protect the environment and the population?  Yes.  What more can you ask of a company than doing that?

RLH:  What are some of those environmental protections?  Can you talk about them?

BO:  The old cement plant used to burn 500,000 tons of coal and make 500,000 tons of cement.  We’re going to make 2 million tons of cement and burn 150,000 tons of coal.  It just shows how much more environmentally-friendly and how much more efficient we really are.

RLH:  A recent economic impact study done by Drs. Galbraith and Stiles at UNCW’s Cameron School of Business looked at how a cement plant would affect the Cape Fear region.  And they looked at three different models.  During his presentation of this study, Dr. Galbraith de-bunked the first two models, saying he’d hang his hat on the third, which revealed much less positive financial impact than previously predicted.  And on top of that, he said the negative impacts would have significant negative economic repercussions for the area.  What’s your reaction to this report?

BO:  I did not read the whole report.  I glanced through it.  Galbraith is a member of Stop Titan.  It did not surprise me that he went to the negative of the three to support.  I was surprised that he would hang his hat on something when he said you couldn’t quantify all the negative results.  You would think if you got a paper like this, it’s all facts and figures; you’d want to be able to quantify it.  But again, was I surprised?  No.

RLH:  When it comes to jobs, I think he said it would generate 48 jobs for New Hanover County, specifically, when you take into consideration the negative impacts.  Do you dispute that number?

BO:  What we have always said, in the tri-county area, one guy’s going to run the plant.  He’s going to come from out of the area.  We said 160 in the tri-county area.  Now, I cannot say how many would come from New Hanover County.  But I will say that we’re going to work with Cape Fear Community College to train people, to give them the skills to work at this plant.  This is not just people beating rocks with hammers.  These are people that have to have certain skills.  We’ll have engineers out at that plant – a lot of highly-trained, highly-technical jobs.  That’s what we’re bringing to this area.

RLH:  What do you think about Galbraith’s idea that certain types of industry, specifically, heavy industry, cement manufacturing, actually has a repellant effect on other desirable industries like research and development or high-tech?  Do you agree with that conclusion?

BO:  No, I do not agree with that conclusion.  I think we can all live together.  I think it can all work together – a mix of high-tech and the cement manufacturing and the heavy industry.  You know, Roanoke has all types of industry right there.  And we fit perfectly.  In Pennsuko [Florida], we’re what – ten miles from South Beach.  You know?  That works well with the area also.  No, I don’t agree with that at all.

RLH:  You talk about the Stop Titan folks as putting bad information out there and wanting to scare people.  Why are they so dead set against this?  Why would they scare people if there aren’t these great risks associated with it?

BO:  I don’t think they want anything built.  It’s just that simple.

RLH:  What do you mean?

BO:  I don’t think they want any industry here.  They probably think you can live off retirees, the tourism, and the film industry and hope you get some high-tech.  You know, I think that is just short-sighted in their thinking.  You know, you need a range of businesses here in town to make this grow.  The big concern is how many businesses are you running off with all this noise that’s going on around what they’re trying to do to us?

RLH:  Bob Odom from Carolinas Cement, thanks so much for joining us today.

BO:  Thank you for having me.  I appreciate it.


Bob Odom has listed the following as environmental protections included in the design plan for the proposed cement plant in Castle Hayne:


Carbon-injection systems

“As far as the particulate matter, we use membrane bags and a wet scrubber to control this and keep us in compliance.”

To read the earlier story on the Galbraith / Stiles economic impact analysis, click here.

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 2 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.