Sulphur processing facility at Morehead City State Port raises concerns

Sulphur processing facility at Morehead City State Port raises concerns

New Bern, NC – In a down economy any type of business expansion is generally welcome news.

"It's a 95 million dollar project. We have 13 positions at the port in MHC and this will add another 18. During the construction period which is 12-18 months there will be about a $4 million payroll there and we'll be paying about $1.2 million in sales tax as part of the project, then the ongoing payroll would be about $650,000 additional to what's going on down there today."

Steve Beckel is the General Manager for the Potash Corp facility in Aurora. He's discussing a sulphur processing facility that Potash Corp is considering siting at the State Port in Morehead City. They're also looking at sites in Florida and Louisiana but having the facility in Carteret County would be advantageous with its proximity to the Aurora facility. While building the processing facility would be a boost to the local economy for the short term some are expressing doubts about what it would mean for area businesses in the long term.

"They are very concerned with a real estate market that is just now starting to come out from under a 3-or-4 year malaise that you add an uncertainty of a chemical plant with odors and what that might do to tourism and the real estate business so there is a great deal of concern."

Frank Tursi is the assistant director with the North Carolina Coastal Federation. He's talking about what he's heard while attending several meetings that have sprung up in the past 10 days discussing the proposed facility. But Steve Beckel is adamant that in regard to odor local tourism officials have little to worry about

"What I know is with this facility there will not be any because of the scrubbing system we've put in place. The modeling shows with the H2S emissions which are the cause of odor are well below the odor threshold."

H2S is hydrogen sulfide. The sulphur processing facility would take solid sulphur and convert it to a molten format which Beckel says is then turned into sulphuric acid to be used to process phosphate ore into solid fertilizers, industrial phosphates and animal feeds. It's Potash Corps first attempt at processing sulphur, but he says they will likely partner with a company that has produced similar facilities in Texas, Arizona, Illinois and Florida and that this plant will go beyond safeguards put in place at those plants to limit odor problems.

"With this facility we've known from the beginning being in Morehead City that the impact on the environment and tourism would be great concerns and as a result we've designed a facility that has a scrubber system on it that none of these facilities that we're aware of do in other places so we've done that. We've done that in order to eliminate odors. We've got state of the art dust control and process control equipment so that it will be a safe facility to operate."

Nevertheless, Frank Tursi says the Coastal Federation can't support the construction of the sulphur processing facility. He says the evaluation process for the plant has been lacking and there are environmental concerns for coastal waters with the Morehead City port potentially handling bulk dry sulphur rather than the molten sulphur which has been off-loaded at the port for Potash Corp's use at the Aurora facility.

"Stormwater systems are not designed to remove chemicals. They're designed to remove nutrients and in some cases bacteria but these engineered systems which is what they'll have to have at the port are not designed to remove sulphur and sediment or water and you become concerned about overloading Calico Creek there with sulphur run-off and what that might do to the salinity of the creek, we just don't know."

Tursi says at this point receiving a Coastal Area Management Act or CAMA permit is about the last major hurdle for the plant. Steve Beckel says if they decide to build at the port they'd also have to negotiate a lease with the state port. If they do decide to locate at the state port, they may do so over local objections. Carteret County's Economic Development Council voted last week to oppose the development. The Carteret County Chamber of Commerce has come down against the plant. And the Carteret County Board of Commissioners voted Monday to oppose the plant as well. I'm George Olsen.