Back to August 2009 home page

Eastern

Few eschew phew lagoons 

Nearly 10 years after Hurricane Floyd flooded dozens of hog-waste lagoons, Tar Heel leaders are still looking for ways to avoid a repeat. Virginia-based Smithfield Foods Inc., the state’s largest pork processor, kicked in $15 million for research, scientists have probed alternatives, and the General Assembly banned new and expanded lagoons two years ago. So why do more than 2,200 farms — about the same as at the time of the hurricane — still use lagoons? Because alternatives repeatedly have been trumped by cost.

“The technology for hog waste has been lagoons for years and years,” says Dewitt Hardy, environmental programs manager of the N.C. Department of Agriculture. “It’s hard to get away from it.” The latest effort to leave lagoons behind came in June, when the state signed up dozens of producers for a $1.1 million U.S. Department of Agriculture program to switch to other means of disposal.

Lagoons are shallow ponds typically holding 7 million gallons or more of waste. Solid waste settles, while liquids are sprayed on fields as fertilizer. During Floyd, floodwaters overran them, polluting rivers, streams and water supplies. Experts say hog farmers learned from the 1999 storm, but Michael Williams, director of the Animal and Poultry Waste Center at N.C. State University, fears another Floyd-like disaster would prompt radical environmental laws that could drive the state’s $2 billion-a-year pork industry elsewhere, possibly to other countries.

After Floyd, the state bought and closed dozens of lagoons in flood plains. Research has focused on how to minimize environmental danger without hurting profit. Two Harnett County farmers are testing one way to do it. They’re trying out technology that will capture methane — which has a greenhouse impact 23 times that of carbon dioxide — by covering lagoons. They could sell the gas or get credits for keeping it out of the atmosphere. Credits could be sold to companies such as utilities that produce carbon dioxide.

In the meantime, Williams says management practices — including lowering waste levels in ponds to prevent overflows, improved pumping of waste and new environmental rules imposed by companies on their contract growers — have reduced the danger of another catastrophe. “There’s no question we’ve significantly improved from a decade ago. But we’ve still got a long ways to go.”

A Second bank sank

North Carolina went 16 years between bank failures. But it has had two within two months this year, both in Wilmington. In mid-June, federal and state regulators shut down Cooperative Bankshares Inc., the parent company of Cooperative Bank. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. sold most of the assets to Troy-based First Bancorp, and Cooperative’s 24 offices reopened as First Bank branches. In April, regulators closed Cape Fear Bank Corp. and sold its assets to Charleston, S.C.-based First Financial Holdings Inc. (Regional Report, May) Why two failures in Wilmington? N.C. State University economist Mike Walden isn’t sure. “Maybe it was just a fluke that there were two banks there that made management and investment errors.” But he notes that coastal North Carolina had the biggest jump in values during the real-estate boom, which means it also had farther to fall.

 

AURORA — The Wilmington office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted PCS Phosphate a permit to expand its mine here by about 11,000 acres. The company, a subsidiary of Canada-based Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan, employs nearly 1,100.

WILMINGTON — Drug tester Pharmaceutical Product Development hired David Grange, 61, as CEO. He replaces Fred Eshelman, 60, now executive chairman. Grange, a former Army brigadier general, has been on the PPD board since 2003.

FAYETTEVILLECape Fear Valley Health System asked the state for permission to build a 50-bed hospital near the Hoke/Cumberland county line. That plan likely will conflict with a proposed 16-bed hospital FirstHealth of the Carolinas wants to build in Raeford. The state is expected to rule on the requests in November.

NEW BERNHatteras Yachts shut down production at its local plant July 1 for six weeks, furloughing most of its 300 employees. About 90 are on indefinite furlough. The boat builder is a division of Lake Forest, Ill.-based Brunswick.

PEMBROKE — Chancellor Allen Meadors, 61, left UNC Pembroke to become president of the University of Central Arkansas, his alma mater. During his 10 years as chancellor, enrollment more than doubled to about 6,300.

ELIZABETHTOWN — Pender County native Charles Cameron Highsmith Jr. is the new CEO of Bladen County Hospital. The former chief executive of St. Luke’s Hospital in Columbus replaces David Masterson, who took a similar job last year at Sampson Regional Medical Center in Clinton.

FAYETTEVILLE — Cumberland County officials promoted Karen Long, 45, to CEO of the Crown Center. She has worked 14 years at the entertainment complex, which includes a 10,500-seat coliseum, a 4,500-seat arena, a 2,400-seat auditorium and a 60,000-square-foot exhibit hall. Long had been interim CEO since October, when she replaced Paul Beard, who resigned during an ethics investigation.