By Mike Wagoner

N.C. Governor Roy Cooper wants to invest $20 million for infrastructure improvements at Radio Island that would prepare the site to become a prime contributor to the emerging offshore wind energy industry. We’ll see in the weeks ahead whether the General Assembly wants to go along.

This deal has lots of tentacles. Many are beneath the surface. Proceed with caution.

The territory on Radio Island being reviewed in an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) encompasses 154 acres of vacant, undeveloped ports-owned property, mostly land lying on the west of side of Marine Road that runs the length of the island.

The EIS does not encompass the public beach access or the bulkhead at the south end of Radio Island that is owned by the U.S. Department of Defense. Nor does the review include marinas and condominiums at Olde Towne Yacht Club, or the town houses at Inlet Cove at Radio Island, all located on the eastern shore of the island.

Ms. Laura G. Blair, vice president of administration and external affairs for the N.C. State Ports Authority has stated, “The EIS is predicated on the potential for a multi-use terminal, suitable for different uses including auto manufacturing supply chain activities as well as offshore wind supply chain support.”

The yet-to-be-identified ports project, if it materializes, could bring hundreds of high-wage permanent jobs to the area, predicts the North Carolina Department of Commerce.

“The EIS will take approximately 12-18 months to complete,” Ms. Blair said. “Along the way, there will certainly be opportunities for the public to learn more…as well as voice opinions about potentials.” Let’s hope and pray the ports authority takes the high road this time.

When Carteret County’s former economic developer first presented the opportunities associated with serving the offshore wind energy industry from Radio Island in 2019, concerns were raised about “lessons learned.” Jennifer Allen of the North Carolina Coastal Federation said Don Kirkman of the Carteret County Economic Development Council (now retired) offered that he had received some assurances from the ports people that matters “will be handled differently than controversial port projects of the past.”

Ms. Allen reminded her readers: “The State Ports Authority has faced stiff public opposition to previous proposals to develop facilities to handle or process liquefied natural gas, ammonia and sulfur at the Port of Morehead City, and criticism over its lack of transparency regarding its plans, a pattern spanning decades.” She reported that Mr. Kirkman said the ports authority wants to make “an effort to be more proactive and transparent about the development of Radio Island.”

The ports people need to do just that. Job creation is an important consideration for sure, but it does not trump environmental preservation and protection. The value of our region’s water-based economy is priceless. Carteret County is first and foremost a tourism destination, and the ports people need to “get it.”

Ms. Allen said that Mr. Kirkman acknowledged that earlier attempts to bring economic development projects to the port and to Radio Island, specifically, were controversial, “because the proposed use involved the handling of a commodity that was deemed dangerous or an environmental threat.” There was quite an uproar by “sulfurious” residents as well as second-home owners when it was revealed in 2011 by the Carteret County News-Times that the Canadian company PCS (PotashCorp of Saskatchewan) had plans to build a sulfur-melting plant at the state port on the Morehead City waterfront.

The project, which would have included two 125-foot smokestacks and storage facilities, would have brought 18 new jobs to the area and about $300,000 a year in property taxes for Morehead City and the county, said the company spokesperson at the time. Gov. Beverly Perdue finally stepped in and Potash retreated.

Now, looking ahead: Receiving offshore wind components, staging them, assembling and fabricating them, storing them and then shipping them out to the wind farm locations off the coast near Kitty Hawk and Bald Head Island may not pose any serious environmental threats. So, would it not behoove the ports authority to state their case to put everyone’s mind at ease?

The possibility of “auto manufacturing supply chain activities” on Radio Island, on the other hand, is rather vague, and efforts to get clarification of this issue from the ports people and commerce department officials have been deflected.

The image of a huge “car park” of vehicles not made in the U.S.A. comes to mind. If this is indeed the scenario, what is going to catch and contain stormwater runoff? If these foreign-made autos do indeed come, how would vehicles be distributed to U.S. dealerships? Most likely by trains and auto hauling carriers departing the port. Is that additional traffic going to clog up Arendell Street?

What is at stake here seems to be whether the ports authority wants to be…or even cares…about being a good neighbor, a community partner and a responsible corporate citizen. All of the property included in the EIS is within the Town of Morehead City and is zoned as “port-marine.” However, what happens inside the fence around the port has an enormous and far-reaching impact outside the fence.

Scholars noted that in 1862 President Abraham Lincoln had “an incessant stream of visitors to his office.” He said, “I call these receptions my ‘public-opinion baths’…and, though they may not be pleasant in all their particulars, the effect as a whole is renovating and invigorating to my perceptions of responsibility and duty.”

It would be refreshing for the ports people to similarly rub-a-dub-dub.

(9) comments

David Collins

These politicians will continually aid and abet these companies/groups that want to move in to the port with claims of how much better things will be . They will certainly lie , steal and slightly misrepresent what will actually happen upon arrival . Must be constantly vigilant and proactive to keep what you have . Once it is gone , it is gone . Game over .

the secret life of man

We the people of Morehead city and Beaufort object to the governors half - fast idea.Who does he think he is trying to change the topography of our county.

Sailorbuoy

"Receiving offshore wind components, staging them, assembling and fabricating them, storing them and then shipping them out to the wind farm locations off the coast near Kitty Hawk and Bald Head Island may not pose any serious environmental threats." As a next door neighbor to the NC Port, I support this.

David Collins

Ahhhh , the word may pops up . Once you open that door , the fine print comes into play . The fine print that few see until it happens . You really think that the Raleigh bunch care what happens down here ? Read the article again . Not just staging but manufacturing . By the water ! Our relatively clean water . For now . Willing to risk that ?

Doc Epoch

Safe and effective seaside manufacturing but rest assured they’ve studied the minimal risks involved. They know it’s safe. Trust the Science ™️ Mr. Collins, trust it…trust the Science, say it with me…

dc

They can take it to Wilmington since they took the cranes.

the secret life of man

Let's go Brandon and Cooper

Sleepwalker

Dangling the job thing out there again. Lots of unemployed folks due to their own devices. Some would find a way to throw their back out if you had them walking around picking up $20 bills.

Doc Epoch

The problem is not that there is a lack of land, food, energy, water, or money. The problem is we’ve given control of these resources to bureaucratic psychopaths. They will do whatever they want to make a buck, they feed off of the money.

Forget the fact that tourism has an economic impact of 330million every year in the county, it’s only going to get busier. Throw that aside. Why not install a LNG/sulfur facility with giant windmills? Here’s 20 mil from Cooper, nobody question it because we are in an emergency! Cooper is here to help. He cares about the folks of MHC and wants to make NC look more like NJ/NY/CA with Safe and Effective chemicals/windmills/industrial development. Evening cocktails around the beautiful industrial sunsets with a Portsmouth, Virginia-esque shoreline everyone fought to conserve from those evil oyster farmers. Everything is backwards, watch how your “conservative” legislation works against you.

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