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Too many ports in this storm 

The way opponents tell it, a planned $2.3 billion international port in Southport would sell Wilmington down the river. Untrue, state port executives say. They insist that North Carolina’s primary port is secure and that arguments to the contrary are nothing more than a scare tactic designed to sink the new 600-acre terminal before it launches.

Backers hope the North Carolina International Terminal will begin operations in 2017, capable of handling the world’s largest container ships. Those docking in Wilmington typically carry about 4,000 20-foot containers. The Southport terminal could accommodate ships carrying up to 12,000. The new terminal was announced in 2005, but the disagreement began heating up in April with formation of a group that calls itself No Port/Southport. Spokeswoman Celeste Plassman says it has several hundred members. Many are retirees who live in the town of about 2,500 near the mouth of the Cape Fear River. They fear a massive port would bring pollution, traffic, and health and safety hazards.

Their attack, though, has been based less on those factors than the new terminal’s economics and viability. “We decided to go with facts only,” Plassman, a retiree, says. Those facts, she adds, are that the N.C. State Ports Authority has understated the terminal’s costs and overstated its benefits. Dredging a channel deep enough for giant container ships would cost more than $2 billion, she says, in addition to the terminal’s $2.3 billion cost. But opponents say the clincher is the argument that the authority, to make the international terminal viable, would have to close the Wilmington port, more than 20 miles upstream.

Port officials say opponents’ objections don’t hold water. “Wilmington and Morehead City are both going to thrive and grow,” says spokeswoman Karen Fox. “The Southport terminal is going to complement both.” She says the authority expects continued growth of container freight to justify the new terminal. That growth should be about 8% a year for the next two years, then 6% a year beginning in 2010. Wilmington will handle smaller container ships as well as general cargo shipments such as wood pulp, steel and bulk materials like fertilizer, Fox says.

Unless, of course, No Ports/Southport manages to sink the new terminal. “This has nothing to do with NIMBY — not in my back yard — issues,” Plassman says. “The taxpayers of the state have a stake in this.”

New gold standard

With $700 million to dole out, the world should beat a path to Golden LEAF’s door. But Dan Gerlach, the new president of the Rocky Mount-based nonprofit, says he’s not waiting to see who shows up. “We’re going out and put some boots on the ground, trying to learn what community needs are to have greater participation.” But don’t expect Golden LEAF, which distributes proceeds from half the state’s share of the national tobacco settlement, to focus entirely on community projects. It provided $100 million to entice Wichita, Kan.- based Spirit AeroSystems to Kinston’s Global TransPark. And Gerlach, who spent seven years as Gov. Mike Easley’s chief fiscal adviser before starting the $189,000-a-year Golden LEAF job Oct. 1., says similar transformational projects remain a high priority. “We’re not doing the job of government, but we’re going to supplement the role of government.”


MOUNT OLIVE Triangle Suspension Systems will spend $6.2 million to open a factory next year. It will employ more than 100 within three years making heavy-duty truck-suspension springs. The DuBois, Pa.-based company will receive $100,000 in state incentives.

MAXTONTCampbell Soup of Camden, N.J., will spend $16.3 million to expand its plant here, adding 50 jobs within three years for a total of 850. It will receive $150,000 in state incentives for the 4,000-square-foot expansion of its 1.8-million-square-foot factory, which is expected to be ready next year.

WHITEVILLEPiramide Mexican Foods plans to open a 48,000-square-foot tortilla factory by early next year. The startup, which will receive nearly $31,000 in local incentives, initially will employ about 20.

WASHINGTON — Filter maker Flanders will move its 100-employee corporate offices back from St. Petersburg, Fla., by the end of the year to cut costs. About half of its 1,200 North Carolina employees work here. It moved to Florida in 1998 after it purchased Precisionaire.

GOLDSBOROWayne Memorial Hospital raised rates 9.5%. In adopting a $195 million budget, up 3.7%, the board cited concerns over bad debt, increasing levels of charity care and smaller reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid.

GOLDSBOROCherry Hospital lost federal Medicaid and Medicare payments after regulators ruled that the state mental hospital is unsafe. The payments totaled about $800,000 a month. Investigators cited instances in which staff beat a patient and patients attacked one another. The state hired Compass Group, a Cincinnati-based consultant, to fix the problems.

MOUNT OLIVEHilex Poly closed its plastic-bag plant, putting about 160 out of work. The Hartsville, S.C.-based company says sales have slowed because consumers are switching to reusable bags.

FAYETTEVILLEMAP Communications planned to add 30 jobs at its call center by the end of October, bringing employment to about 35. The Chesapeake, Va.-based company handles calls for government agencies, nonprofits, health-care offices and other businesses.

MIDDLESEX — Baltimore-based Fawn Plastics closed its plant, eliminating 46 jobs. It cited foreign competition. The auto-parts maker once employed about 800 here.

JACKSONVILLEState Board of Transportation member Louis Sewell resigned after questions were raised about road projects that benefited property that he and his son owned. Sewell’s resignation letter says the road projects were needed but he should have recused himself from discussing them.

GOLDSBOROAT&T will hire 50 more workers than planned at its customer-service center, giving it about 400 by the end of the year. The Bedminster, N.J.-based telecommunications company opened the center in April.