A lithium mining startup promised to make a rural pocket of North Carolina a clean-energy boomtown. But perceived slights and concerns over water have turned neighbors against the project.
GASTON COUNTY, North Carolina — Brian Harper opened the door to his back porch, stepped outside, and inhaled the brisk air. Exhaling, he stretched his arms out wide as if to embrace the bucolic scene before him.
Moments like this were sacred — and, he feared, fleeting. On that late afternoon in early January, the sun cast a golden tint over the brown frost-nipped fields behind the Harper family’s stately brick home. Just a few hundred feet away was the red barn containing his workshop, where he makes precision gears for clients like Duracell, Dart Container Corp. and Nestlé.
Harper, 54, wanted to catch the last bit of light on his quiet stretch of farmland about 45 minutes northwest of Charlotte. He crunched onto his icy lawn and cut a diagonal path across his neatly mowed 12 acres. Past the neighboring home where his sister-in-law and her family live and down a gentle slope, he came to a stop on the squishy banks of a brook.
He crouched down and pointed to a small mound of mud — a crayfish burrow. Before long, Harper said, a herd of deer would make its nightly visit to drink and munch on greenery the recent cold snap hadn’t yet claimed.
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