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Siler City fined another $36K for continuing to pollute waterways

An aerial view of the wastewater treatment. plant in Siler City

An aerial view of the wastewater treatment plant in Siler City (Photo: Town of Siler City)

Siler City, whose chronic water quality violations have cost taxpayers $239,000 over the past six years, has been penalized another $36,000 by state regulators, recent documents show.

The first penalty, for $20,000 stems from violations that occurred in May 2022. That’s when Siler City’s wastewater treatment plant discharged total nitrogen, which includes nitrites and ammonia, at levels 159% above permitted limits into Loves Creek, a tributary of the Rocky River. The source of the nitrogen and ammonia is the Mountaire poultry slaughter plant, which sends its wastewater to the plant in western Chatham County.

Facility operators also failed to properly monitor discharge entering the plant for nitrogen and iron.

Half of the penalty amount was for “failing to mitigate conditions” at the plant that allowed the violations to occur, according to a letter sent by the NC Department of Environmental Quality on Dec. 1.

DEQ fined Siler City another $16,000 for exceeding nitrogen limits in June 2022, and, as occurred in May, for failure to mitigate plant conditions.

Policy Watch previously reported, In just the last two years, DEQ has fined Siler City more than $154,000 related to these and other violations. The plant has been designated by the EPA as a “significant non-complier.” The plant has logged more than 80 violations since 2019.

Siler City’s inability to rein in its pollutants jeopardizes its economic opportunities. DEQ has already imposed a statutory moratorium on new sewer hookups until regulators determine the plant can handle the additional demand.

And the load is coming: In September, on the same day that Wolfspeed announced it would build a new silicon carbide factory in Siler City, bringing with it 1,800 new jobs, the town applied with DEQ for a Special Order by Consent, also known as an SOC.

SOCs are legal agreements between the state and a facility that can’t meet their permit requirements. Under an SOC, a facility is still required to eventually comply, but is often given additional time to do so, with benchmarks along the way.

Before an SOC is issued, state regulators must open a public comment period; that has not occurred.

The town also asked DEQ to lift the moratorium to accommodate Wolfspeed, which would discharge wastewater to the plant. Improvements to the facility are 18 months behind schedule but should be complete by January 2025. DEQ is reviewing the town’s request but has not announced whether it would grant it.

Destruction of Moore County substations carry steep penalties, especially if linked to domestic terrorism

Those responsible for shooting up two Duke Energy substations in Moore County, cutting off electricity to more than 40,000 people, could face decades in prison if apprehended and convicted.

Destroying or conspiring to destroy an energy facility, like a substation, carries carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison if the damage exceeds $100,000 or causes a “significant interruption or impairment of a function” of the facility. If convicted, the perpetrators could also be fined up to $50,000 on each count.

However, if someone dies as a result of the act — such if a home oxygen supply runs out — the penalty is life in prison.

On Saturday evening, Moore County law enforcement responded to calls that the substations had been heavily damaged by multiple rounds of gunfire, and power had gone out through most of the area.

Duke Energy reported that it could be Thursday before the substations are repaired and power is restored. The utility has not provided a full cost estimate of the damage, but media accounts quoted the Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields as saying it is likely in the millions of dollars.

The distance between the two substations — West End and Carthage — is roughly 15 miles. The outages occurred roughly 45 minutes apart, according to the local newspaper, The Pilot.

Police have not publicly identified a motive, although the FBI and SBI have joined the investigation. Around the same time of the shootings at the substations, protesters were demonstrating against a drag show at the Sunrise Theater in Southern Pines; the show continued for about an hour by candlelight, according to a Tweet by Naomi Dix, one of the performers and organizers.

Sheriff Fields said in a press conference that investigators have not tied the destruction to opposition to the drag show. However, Emily Grace Rainey, a far-right activist and vehement opponent of the event, posted on Facebook, telling her followers, “you know what to do,” WRAL reported.

Rainey also posted on Twitter that she knew why the power went out. Sheriff Fields said during a press conference that he visited Rainey, asked her several questions and “had a word of prayer” with her, but in determined using “good law enforcement” that she was not responsible.

It’s difficult to know what to make of Rainey’s social media posts. Her Instagram feed is rife with anti-vaxxer, hard-line Catholic and prepper posts (“worship God, rebuild His kingdom, and when required, use force to defend it.” She is also trained in military psychological operations, which specializes in the sowing of information and disinformation against American adversaries.

Rainey resigned from the US Army last year, where she had attained the rank of captain, after receiving a reprimand for a protest near Fort Bragg, according to CBS News. She subsequently led 100 people to the Jan. 6 rally-turned-riot outside the US Capitol, but has not been charged with entering the building.

If those responsible for taking down the Moore County power grid did so to disrupt the drag show, then it’s possible that could meet the definition of domestic terrorism under the USA Patriot Act.

It defines domestic terrorism as acts that intend “to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, influence the policy of a government through intimidation or coercion, or affect the conduct of a government through mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.”

Convictions on domestic terrorism charges carry additional penalties.