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Got a simple little story for you today of a multinational corporation that wants to build a great big cement plant in North Carolina really, really, bad, and the local opposition to what appears to be a corrupt and distorted decision process.

Two local activists in particular have drawn the ire of Titan Cement, the Grecian corporation who seeks to build the plant—and because the Company doesn’t like what the activists have been saying about what the impact of that plant will likely be or how the deal’s going down…they’re suing Kayne Darrell and Dr. David Hill, residents of North Carolina’s New Hanover County, and the two folks who are doing the complaining the Company dislikes the most.

The Company further claims that they were slandered and defamed by the damaging statements that were uttered by the two at a county commissioners’ meeting and that they have lost goodwill and the chance to do business with certain parties as a result of these statements.

But what if everything the Defendants said was not only true…but provably so—and the Company was, maybe…just looking to shut people up by sending teams of lawyers after them?

As I said, it’s a simple story today—but it’s a good one.

We have tomorrow
Bright before us
Like a flame.

Yesterday, a night-gone thing
A sun-down name.

And dawn today
Broad arch above the road we came.
We march!

--From The New Negro, by Alain Locke

So here’s the deal, as it sits today: for a number of years now Titan Cement has been looking to build this great big cement plant near the environmentally sensitive North Carolina coast (part of the site includes 600 acres of “pristine wetlands”), and part of running a cement plant is running cement kilns.

Ya gotta cook limestone, sand, and clay, along with some other ingredients, at very high temperatures (above 2700 degrees F), which sort of fuses everything together; that makes “clinker”, which eventually becomes cement, and that’s why you need giant kilns and, often, pre-heater towers.

You need fuel for those really hot kilns and towers, and our friends at the Army Corps of Engineers advise that, in the kiln fuel game, you can actually kill two birds with one limestone by burning hazardous waste as a substitute for anywhere from 20% to 50% of your original “fuel of choice” (which is often coal).

According to the Corps, you can burn 12 tons of fuel an hour in one kiln, and that means up to six tons of…

byproducts of pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and electronics manufacturers;
solvents and inks used to print newspaper and other publications;
solvents used to recycle paper;
dry-cleaning solvents;      
paint thinners and paint residues;
sludge from the petroleum industry;
used motor oil;
agricultural wastes;
and scrap tires.

…might be going into the mix every hour—and as it turns out, that stuff might contain:

…arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, nickel, thallium, and zinc.

Now if you’re burning that stuff, it’s either going up the smokestack or out the door as a component of the clinker you just made, and if you live anywhere near this plant, you’re going to be at least a little concerned…and if you have the impression that the people who are trying to get the permits are running a big ol’ hustle to get those permits, you’re going to be even more concerned…and it looks like that’s what’s been going on…and if you put all this together, and you lived in the neighborhood, you might show up at a local County Commissioners’ meeting and say something like this

“From lawsuits for price fixing and court-ordered mine closures of Titan’s Florida plant, to allegations of corruption coming from Raleigh, to emails raising suspicion whether Titan was ever even considering any other location, which would make incentives completely unnecessary, the clouds of corruption grow dark as new controversies emerge almost daily.”

…or this…

“The bottom line is we know from numerous studies that if we build this thing, more children will get sick, a handful of them will die. We also know from the adult studies that more adults will get sick and quite a few more of them are going to die as well. Which ones? Can’t tell you. That makes it difficult, but there will be some.”

...which are the two utterances which are today at legal issue. (Ms Darrell is being sued for the first statement, Dr. Hill, the second.)

The reason we are all gathered here today is to figure out whether either of those statements are truthful or not…because if the statements are truthful, they cannot be either slanderous or defamatory.

So let’s break it all down, one clause at a time:

Ms. Darrell talked about lawsuits for price fixing, and sure enough, CemWeek (“Global Cement Industry. Knowledge”) ran a story in October of ’09 entitled “Nine US cement companies accused of price fixing”, describing a lawsuit filed for price fixing in which Titan was one of the Defendants.

Court-ordered mine closures? Coffey Burlington, attorneys at law, recount their success with a certain case on their website (Sierra Club v. Army Corps of Engineers, Rinker Group, Tarmac America, Florida Rock Industries, APAC-Florida and Miami-Dade Limestone Products Association), which did in fact result in a court-ordered mine closure of Florida facilities operated by Tarmac America, which is a Titan subsidiary.

Allegations of corruption? How about this, reported in January of 2010 by the Wilmington, NC, StarNews:

A corporation that shares an address and president with a Titan America subsidiary bought a Wilmington office building for more than twice its tax value from Democratic fund-raisers under scrutiny by state and federal prosecutors.

To add to this element of the story, the current Governor, Bev Perdue, has asked the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) to look into Titan's permitting process, which is something that usually follows allegations, if I recall correctly.

Let’s move on: the folks in the Wilmington, NC, area have a private economic development committee that has negotiated secretly with Titan for some time; the result of that effort was the decision to provide $4.2 million in local government incentives to Titan.

But here’s the thing: if Titan never meant to build anywhere but on that one site, and they still hustled the community for the incentives by using the threat of building somewhere else…well, that’s why Ms. Darrell was talking about:

“…emails raising suspicion whether Titan was ever even considering any other location, which would make incentives completely unnecessary…”

In 2008, Keith Barber, he of Wrightsville Beach Magazine, documented Titan’s multi-decade interest in this particular location:

Titan has made very little effort to conceal the fact it plans to move forward with construction of a cement plant and limestone mining operation on the banks of the Northeast Cape Fear River. In a 2005 interview with Titan CEO Aris Papadopoulos in Cement Americas magazine, Papadopoulos confirmed the Greece-based company had been considering building a plant in Castle Hayne for nearly two decades…

… In addition, even though the permitting process is 18 months to 2 years out, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) Web site reveals that CSX Railroad is already constructing a new spur track at the site of the proposed Carolinas Cement Company.  

The Charlotte News & Observer documents the existence of those pesky emails in a January 2010 editorial:

…[Titan lobbyist John] Merritt said he would talk to then-Commerce Secretary Jim Fain. Earlier, he had advised a company spokeswoman on how to respond to questions without raising suspicions that Titan might not qualify for a state grant.

"It is very important that the company not do anything that suggests that this is the only site you are looking at," Merritt e-mailed. And sure enough, in its application for incentives Titan asserted that it was considering sites elsewhere.

Let’s jump in for just a second and take a look at where we are:

Ms. Darrell made this statement…

“From lawsuits for price fixing and court-ordered mine closures of Titan’s Florida plant, to allegations of corruption coming from Raleigh, to emails raising suspicion whether Titan was ever even considering any other location, which would make incentives completely unnecessary, the clouds of corruption grow dark as new controversies emerge almost daily.”

…and based on what we’ve seen so far, every single word of that statement turns out to be absolutely, provably true:

--There was a price-fixing lawsuit.
--There was a court-ordered mine closure of Titan’s Florida plant.
--It’s alleged that something funny was going on with that office building, and North Carolina’s SBI is investigating.
--We did in fact discover that emails exist raising suspicions as to whether Titan was considering any other location.
--And here we are, talking about one of the new controversies that emerge almost daily.

Today’s tale of legal bullying is running pretty long already, and we still have half of the story to go…so let’s take a break for today, and we’ll pick this up by looking at the statement made by Dr. Hill when we get together next time.

In the meantime, if you’re keeping score…I’m thinking that after Round One, it’s Defendants, 1, Titan, 0.

Originally posted to fake consultant on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 05:29 PM PST.

Also republished by DK GreenRoots.

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Comment Preferences

  •  so that's part one... (3+ / 0-)

    ...and like i said, this doesn't look so good for titan...

    "...this election has never been about me. it's about you."--barack obama

    by fake consultant on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 05:28:45 PM PST

  •  great story (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fake consultant

    I sure hope it has a happy ending.

    There is no snooze button on a cat who wants breakfast.

    by puzzled on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 06:04:55 PM PST

    •  we have no idea as yet... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      puzzled

      ...but i'd sure like to be the defense attorney--and the duke university law clinic has been working on behalf of the opponents for some time now, so i have a feeling that someone's going to have a really good time with this one--and that trying to apply overpowering resources for the bullying effort ain't gonna work, if there's an entire law school on the other side.

      "...this election has never been about me. it's about you."--barack obama

      by fake consultant on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 06:26:27 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Does NC have or do its courts recognize the (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        fake consultant

        SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) cause of action?  This is one, where the suit is brought to discourage opposition to a project of the plaintiff's by suing usually for defamation over a remark made in a public review forum.

        •  that's exactly what's happened here... (0+ / 0-)

          ...with the slight twist that the company asserts their course of action is based on statements made when no testimony or other actions related to the permitting was taking place.

          the "slight twist" may be a legal effort to avoid being slapped with the "slapp" label (bit of a pun, eh?), but i do not have the background on this to really give you a good answer.

          however...i did find this, from the "citizen media law project", which is certainly seems to be relevant, even though i can't vouch for the accuracy of the information because i don't know anything about the source:

          The CMLP has not identified any relevant statues or cases concerning Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) in North Carolina. If you know about an anti-SLAPP law in North Carolina, please contact us...

          If you succeed in fending off a SLAPP-type lawsuit in North Carolina, you may be able to bring a claim of malicious prosecution against the original plaintiff. While North Carolina does not explicitly recognize a "SLAPPback" claim, the elements of a malicious prosecution claim are similar.

          "...this election has never been about me. it's about you."--barack obama

          by fake consultant on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 09:31:44 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  More information (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fake consultant

    More than just Titan Cement Company is involved.

    http://www.wect.com/...

  •  Titan review (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fake consultant

    What's really wacky is the notion that doing a proper environmental review should have anything to do with how the proposed cement plant is financed.  The environmental considerations ought to be taken seriously no matter what the underlying financial arrangements are.  NC needs to change its laws in this regard.

    Regulate banks, not bedrooms

    by Eagleye on Wed Mar 09, 2011 at 08:57:57 AM PST

    •  i can only assume... (0+ / 0-)

      ...that what's happened is a compromise: if we use public money, we'll be more careful, but we'll leave private industry more "free and unfettered".

      i can't say with authority that's what's happened, but it makes sense if you look at how legislatures work.

      "...this election has never been about me. it's about you."--barack obama

      by fake consultant on Wed Mar 09, 2011 at 01:59:55 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Jobs? (0+ / 0-)

    What should be happening is government "environmentalists" putting a focused eye on the Titan plant...allowing them to build this increasing jobs there while insuring they working within legal enviornmental laws to do the process they are involved in.

    Just trashing this company and just going negative on their process solves nothing.  Working in the right way, this could be a good addition for economical development/jobs there.

    Environmentalists have to be reigned in from their "blind eye" approach to development and job creating industry.

    •  What jobs? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      fake consultant

      Most of the high-paying jobs at Titan will be out of town, which leaves about 100 low-paying jobs.  Quite a price to pay for a plant that will spew mercury into the air, endangering our children, and driving tourists down to Myrtle Beach or up to the outer banks.  

      •  the total jobs number... (0+ / 0-)

        ...is awfully "squishy", and i've seen "net" estimates that could be as low as 40; this because it might not just be tourists that move to the outer banks or myrtle beach after titan moves in.

        "...this election has never been about me. it's about you."--barack obama

        by fake consultant on Wed Mar 09, 2011 at 02:01:52 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  the thing is... (0+ / 0-)

      ...the "right" way would be to perform the environmental studies that would determine exactly how damaging this plant might be...but titan is working night and day, in secret and in public, to avoid that type of review.

      from what i can see, titan would prefer to do this by working through the "committee of 100" (the wid) and not do any of their business in the open where the public might have objections.

      the situation with the easley administration looks so bad the current governor called in the sbi to check it out; that's not usually a sign that things are happening in an open and transparent way.

      and as for jobs: there are estimates that this would create as many as 165 jobs...or as few as 40, depending on how you measure.

      the 40 jobs figure arises because it's assumed some businesses will pack up and move because the perceived "quality of lifestyle" will decline as some see titan as a company that just ran over the locals to install a polluting industry.

      if that's true, you would be trading 265 pounds of mercury dropped on your land every year for 40 jobs a year (that's the amount titan is saying in their permit application they'll discharge), and i think the kids who live there, who play in that dirt, and who will be exposed to that mercury as it accumulates year after year are going to find that's not a very good deal after all.

      "...this election has never been about me. it's about you."--barack obama

      by fake consultant on Wed Mar 09, 2011 at 01:56:00 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Titan wants opponents to just shut up and go away (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fake consultant

    I'm not sure who, but I bet I can guess who, has been stealing Stop Titan signs from people's front yards in Wilmington.  Dedicated opponents now see fit to screw the signs to fences and other permanent fixtures to make sure that their message is seen.  

    •  y'all should put out... (0+ / 0-)

      ...some "bait" signs...and then catch the thefts on video.

      that's gonna be good times, i'm thinking.

      "...this election has never been about me. it's about you."--barack obama

      by fake consultant on Wed Mar 09, 2011 at 02:09:20 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I've been there... (0+ / 0-)

        Independentman--

        You ought to try living to a bunch of cement plants sometime.  I have, and I can tell you with great assurance that it's a brutal industry with huge downside impacts.  And most all of big the players in the industry are foreign and don't give a rat's ass about the communities that they operate in.  Their plants kill way more jobs than they create, and they depress property values and discourage new investment.

        Regulate banks, not bedrooms

        by Eagleye on Wed Mar 09, 2011 at 02:41:27 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

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