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Residents Form Organization to Fight Proposed EV Battery Plant in Western North Carolina

Residents in western North Carolina are opposing plans for an electric vehicle (EV) battery manufacturing plant that they believe will harm the environment and their scenic countryside. The North Carolina state legislature allocated $35.8 million to Burke Development Inc. in October 2023 to purchase a 1,400-acre property for an industrial megasite. While the Burke County Commissioners have not made an official decision on approving the EV battery plant, the CEO of Burke Development, Alan Wood, hinted at its potential. Wood mentioned the Southeast’s growing number of EV manufacturing plants due to their proximity to a lithium mine in Kings Mountain, North Carolina.

In response to the opposition, an organization called Stop Burke-Lake James Megasite (Stop BLJM) was formed, and a petition with 2,859 signatures is circulating. The residents argue that the proposed plant would devastate Lake James and its surrounding area, which attracts tourists and residents with its natural beauty. Lake James is a reservoir with over 150 miles of shoreline and is a popular destination for outdoor recreation.

Burke County Manager Brian Epley defended the project in a Fireside Chat in February, emphasizing the need for economic development and job creation. He stated that only 30% of the property would be developed while 70% would remain undeveloped for noise and light pollution buffering, stream remediation, and stormwater retention to maintain water source cleanliness and wildlife habitats.

However, Stop BLJM members remain unconvinced, citing concerns about water pollution from chemical drainage and the potential risks of having an EV battery plant near Lake James and the Catawba River, a water supply for 26 downstream counties. They argue that the project would irreversibly change the area and harm tourism, which is a significant economic driver for the region.

Members of Stop BLJM also question the transparency and ethics of the project, expressing frustration over a lack of input from residents and the covert actions of the Burke County Commissioners. They are concerned about the funding for the megasite, the commissioners’ affiliations with Burke Development, and the lack of information about the project’s details. The conditional rezoning of the county has raised further suspicions, as it allows for subjective decision-making without public comment.

Stop BLJM’s efforts have led to changes in local government, with two longtime commissioners being voted out of office. Stop BLJM-backed Republican candidates Brian Barrier and Mike Stroud won the primary election in March and await the general election in November.

Barrier, one of the candidates, has emphasized the need for fiscal conservatism and transparency in government spending. He believes that elected officials should prioritize essential services instead of pursuing billion-dollar projects without public support. He hopes that Stop BLJM’s activism will pressure the commissioners to listen to residents’ concerns and reconsider the EV battery plant project.

Overall, the opposition to the EV battery plant in western North Carolina highlights the clash between economic development and environmental preservation. The residents are fighting to protect their natural surroundings and maintain their quality of life, while also advocating for transparency and accountability in local government decisions.

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