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Eastern

PCS wants to move into some new digs 

PCS Phosphate’s clock is ticking, but only time will tell if the countdown by one of Eastern North Carolina’s largest employers is cause for alarm. Ross Smith, environmental manager of PCS Phosphate, says the company needs federal permission — soon — to mine about 4,000 acres of wetlands near Aurora. “We don’t have that much reserve remaining in the currently permitted boundaries. So if this thing were prolonged for another matter of years, we’d have no choice but to shut down.”

Already, the permitting process has taken seven years. If the feds give it a green light, PCS, part of Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan, would spend $4.8 billion to mine the wetlands over the permit’s 37-year span, Smith says. In strict economic terms, that’s clearly preferable to closing the world’s biggest integrated phosphate mine and processing complex, throwing 1,000 people out of work and shrinking a $60 million annual payroll to zero.

But potential economic gains and losses must be weighed against the damage mining could cause the environmentally sensitive wetlands, which soak up runoff and pollution near the Pamlico River and several large coastal creeks. Heather Jacobs, a spokeswoman for the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation, says the expansion would be the biggest destruction of wetlands in state history.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it’s trying to expedite the process, though it has given no indication when a decision might be forthcoming. Few expect the corps to deny the permit, though it could mandate changes in PCS’ plans. Public comment on the proposal ends this month. The company’s interest in the wetlands has been stoked by growing demand for phosphate as an ingredient in fertilizer and food. It’s widely used in soft drinks.

Corps officials say a shutdown is unlikely, but even a delay of several months could force PCS to shift massive equipment around within the 7,700 acres it’s allowed to mine, Smith says. “The lack of permits has already caused PCS to spend some pretty significant dollars and time in developing contingency plans.”

ROANOKE RAPIDS — The city agreed to pay Gilmore Entertainment Group $500,000 a year to operate Roanoke Rapids Theatre, but the two sides were still ironing out details. The city fired entertainer Randy Parton last year as manager of the 1,500-seat theater. Calvin Gilmore, chairman of the Myrtle Beach, S.C.-based company, started The Carolina Opry 22 years ago.

NEW BERN — Craven County commissioners asked the General Assembly to change the name of Craven County Regional Airport to Coastal Carolina Regional Airport. They say that would better reflect the region it serves.

CASTLE HAYNETitan America plans to build a $469 million factory that would employ about 160 within three years. Average pay will be $72,068 a year; the New Hanover County average is $33,228. The Norfolk, Va.-based maker of cement and other building materials will receive $4.7 million in state and local incentives.

FAYETTEVILLECape Fear Valley Medical Center cut 24 jobs as part of the health system’s restructuring. It says it has lost money the last two years because of a drop in surgeries and low reimbursement rates from government insurers. About 4,000 still work for the system.

ROCKY MOUNTVolkswagen eliminated Nash County as a site of an assembly plant that will employ about 2,000. No reason was given. The German automaker narrowed its search to Alabama, Michigan and Tennessee.

MOREHEAD CITY — The state Coastal Resources Commission denied requests from about 150 home and business owners who want to block beach erosion with sandbags. The state began a phased removal of sandbags in May. Regulators say they worsen erosion nearby.

MAPLE — Currituck County will spend more than $2.5 million to buy about 63 acres adjacent to Currituck Regional Airport for expansion — if the state approves. Federal and state grants will pay 90% of the price.