How big is the Phosphate Mine? And, where is it? Actually, what is it? I doubt many North Carolina residents who live near it could answer these questions. Well, it’s bigger than you could possibly imagine, it’s north of the tiny coastal town of Aurora near the Pamlico River, and it’s an endless scar across the landscape that digs up million-year-old sediment (full of sharks teeth the size of your fist) and turns it into fertilizer.

And, curiously, it’s owned by some folks in Saskatchewan, Canada, who say they are helping to feed the world, which in the prevailing agricultural economic model, is probably true. But, should we feed ourselves with one hand while we cut off our other hand. If you go on Google Earth to Aurora, NC then scroll north, you will see one ghastly vision of amputated terra firma. Go in close, the satellite images are fantastic.

The enormity of the thing in such an isolated area stuns one’s perception. The railroad layout from the Google Earth view is, as in Avatar, an almost Pandora like vision of interplanetary exploitation. The skyline of the industrial complex looks like the factory ranges of the New Jersey Turnpike. The excavation tools must rival in size the giants of the Chilean copper mines.

This can’t be good, I’m thinking; and as a moderately informed, non-expert observer, I really don’t have to know all the facts, the scientific data, the pros and cons. I can just look at this endless basin scooped out of miles of eastern North Carolina marshes, and say, without having to defend myself, “There’s got to be a better way to feed the world.” (And, maybe we must admit, we can’t continue to support an exponential increase in hungry tummies.)

Apparently, I’m not entirely alone thinking so. The News and Observer, the EPA, and the Pamlico-Tar River Association, to mention a few, seem to have some reservations about the impact of the mine on the environment. (Though recently both our good US senators endorsed giving the mine a green light for future expansion.)  According to my brief internet searches, this uninhabited expanse of erstwhile wetlands was where sea life had procreated for millennia. Well, it’s hard to procreate now in a hole in the ground.

So, we get a thousand jobs and a crater, and Canada gets the profits. It doesn’t seem quite right. Hmmm, as a casual observer, let me see if I am getting this picture. We are producing millions of hogs for sausage, leaking their waste into our water system which kills the fish, poisons ground water, and makes people sick. Then we dig up the earth, where more fish breed, to get fertilizer to grow more feed to grow more pigs. Guess I’m not seeing clearly, or am I?

Well, we did get a Fossil Museum and a spring Fossil Festival in Aurora, which I hear brings visitors from half the country and is great fun for everyone. I may even go to the festival next year. I did go to the museum recently where those magnificent scary million-year-old sharks teeth are on display.

So, here’s an idea! We start moderating pork production to a sustainable level where it doesn’t poison anything or ruin the lives and property values of neighbors, then use the hog waste in the most judicious and conservative manner as fertilizer so there is less need to scrape the surface of the earth for phosphate. Then we can return coastal North Carolina to the proud producer of seafood in pristine waters that it deserves to be. I love a country ham biscuit every now and then, but I like my shrimp, too.

Bill Phillips

Bill Phillips

A lifelong North Carolina resident with an interest in local history, outdoor adventures, politics, and culture.  

Started out as a high school history teacher, then worked in public schools under grants from the 1964 Civil Rights Act (teacher education programs.) Then a three year stint as a social worker was followed by several years as a “folkie,” playing string band music, making musical instruments, and presenting indigenous folk performers in public school concerts under a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Change of course: became a carpenter, then a home remodeler, then a home builder, then a remodeling designer. Now, am merging that with free lance photography and writing.

A hopelessly compulsive writer, with more unpublished stuff in the closet than you want to know about. Have recently seen the light of day with a blog on Google Blogger. If an article of mine on Like the Dew interests you, you will find it on the following blog with many more high resolution photos relating to the post.

North Carolina, People and Places

Also, for your inner Geek:  Handheld Tech Toys