Enviva project for Sampson being mulled

Chris Berendt Staff Writer

September 10, 2013

The county is considering providing incentives to Enviva Pellets Sampson LLC to locate in northern Sampson, a prospect that brought a standing room-only crowd to the Board of Commissioners meeting Monday, the majority touting the project and its potential beneficial effects to the local trucking, logging and forestry industries.

Economic Developer John Swope presented performance-based business incentives for the location of the industry to Exit 355 on I-40. No decision was ultimately made, with the Board of Commissioners is expected to consider the matter further next week.

The project would bring an investment of between $95 million-$117 million in taxable property, as well as 79 direct jobs at an average salary of $37,000. Enviva has estimated another 130 indirect jobs in the forest supply and logistics chain, as well as 300 contractor and project crew jobs during construction. Enviva also estimated about $35 million in purchases will be made in the region, primarily in the logging and forestry industry.

“That would be a tremendous boost for our logging and forestry industry in this region,” Swope said.

Enviva proposes to develop and construct a 500,000 metric ton wood pellet production facility, which would utilize wood biomass feedstock from the region.

“We don’t build a facility until the capacity of that plant is already sold,” said Enviva representative Glenn Gray, noting long-term contracts already inked. “This plant will be sold out for eight or 10 years. Our scheduling is very critical. We have to identify a site. We have to get that site permitted, equipment ordered … so our schedule becomes very compact very quickly.”

State logging businesses are expected to experience an annual revenue increase of $23.4 million and 81 new jobs as a result, Swope said.

Sampson would also see a 2.8 percent increase in its current $4.2 billion tax base, with Enviva to serve as the county’s largest taxable entity, but not technically its largest taxpayer because of the grant-backs.

“One of the things Sampson County needs is more tax revenue,” said Swope. “This is what we in economic development call an impact project. If a project like this comes to Sampson it is going to have an impact on Sampson and surrounding counties, and Sampson gets the real benefit of the tax base.”

There is already nearly $1.5 million in water extension grants in place toward bringing water infrastructure to I-40 at Exit 355, leaving the county to pay less than $40,000 “out of pocket” in matching funds for the grants.

At a public hearing in June, the Sampson Board of Commissioners approved providing a 12-month option to Enviva Holdings LP at a cost of $100 for the 180-acre stretch at I-40 Exit 355. Enviva has requested that 50 percent of the county property taxes paid by the company for the proposed facility be returned through performance-based grant-back incentives, meaning the company would receive direct incentives of $2,445,854, half the taxes it would have to pay in the first 10 years.

County tax revenues would equal $4.9 million for the first 10 years, which would amount to between $1.5 million and $1.7 million after the proposed grant-backs and other incentives are factored in. The industry would pay $245,000 annually in taxes for years 11-20.

Public comments

More than 20 people signed up to speak during the public hearing, many in favor of the Enviva project, but still others warning against his adverse effects.

“One thing North Carolina needs is jobs. We need jobs desperately,” said Bobby Goodson. “We have to start producing something again. We’re a consuming nation and we’re not making anything. I think this is a good start in the right direction.”

His brother Mike Goodson noted that his is a fourth-generation logger, with his nephew Justin being fifth generation. He s

“My family had 11 separate logging companies and we’re down to three companies,” he said. “We need these markets. I;m envious that it is Sampson County. I’m from Onslow County and I wish it was our county that had something like this. You have a really good opportunity to create jobs and I hope it goes through, because we need jobs and different markets.”

There have been logging families who have gone under due to the struggling economy and markets that have dried up. He urged the county to help counteract that. Others concurred.

“It is a tremendous boon to the economy for a plant like this to come (to Sampson),” said Doug Duncan, executive director of the N.C. Association of Professional Loggers, who asked for a show of hands of those whose families were involved in trucking, logging or forestry. More than half the standing-room only crowd raised their hands. “I think everyone here to a person would say they would benefit from this type of economic situation.”

Tommy Norris, a registered forester in the state, stressed the need for more markets, a point emphasized by Goodson and many others at Monday’s public hearing.

“The most important thing we can do to ensure healthy forests that are not only producing products, but also producing oxygen for us to breathe, is have the markets for the products coming out of the forest,” said Norris. “To have healthy forests we need good markets. What a tremendous opportunity you have in this county. This nation needs more jobs, non-government jobs.”

Grover Ezzell, president of Ezzell Trucking Inc. in Sampson, said his company transports wood residuals, consisting of chips, bark shavings and wood pellets, moving 300 loads daily. That includes serving as a carrier for Enviva for the last two years. He praised and endorsed Enviva, calling the company a “stable organization that is going to be here a long time.”

“I can tell you from my personal experience they have been a great partner,” said Ezzell. “Enviva made safety and sustainability non-negotiable; they strive for environmental leadership, not just compliance. They continually strive to improve environmental conditions in communities in which they operate. We are fortunate Enviva wants to make a home in Sampson County. They will be locating somewhere in this part of the state … Sampson is where they need to be.”

A group of concerned citizens, including Jean Bryson, Frances Parks and Deborah Kornegay, spoke in opposition of Enviva, saying the company’s other plants in Ahoskie and Northampton County pollutants have wreaked havoc on residents and their properties.

One man told the group that when the plant in Ahoskie was built, everything he owned decreased in value. The group visited both Ahoskie and Northampton.

“That’s the same thing that is going to happen to some people in Sampson County,” said Bryson. “Everything they own will be worth less.”

She said the plants bring noise and pollutants, showing a dirty pool filter taken from one of the homes in Ahoskie. Additionally, the women talked to people around Northampton, asking them what the plant has brought to them.

“One gentleman said, ‘it has destroyed our neighborhood,’” Bryson recalled. “Is this what we want for Sampson County?”

Kornegay said cutting down trees, which loggers have done to deliver product to Enviva plants, contributes to the destruction of the ecosystem.

“Deforestation is a bad thing,” said Kornegay. “Allowing tons and tons of wood from our forests to be indiscriminately cut, made into pellets and shipped abroad is tantamount to opening up Pandora’s box. We are opening up areas to increased flooding and disturbing plant and animal habitats and doing all that to produce energy for foreign countries … and out-of-state investors to make a lot of money at our expense.”

She said the property at Exit 355 is an excellent location, but would not remain that way with Enviva’s location there.

“If you bring an industry there that is going to dust everyone and everything with particulate matter clean industry or commercial enterprises will be hesitant to invest in such an area,” Kornegay said.

Gray said there have been growing pains and lessons learned, standing behind Enviva’s practices. He said all issues are tackled and resolved. There will be an approximately 90-foot stack, which will emit a steady plume of steam produced by moisture coming off the wood during the drying process. There are “very stringent” regulations as to how much particulate matter can be contained in the process, Gray said, and Enviva falls far below those thresholds.

“Nowhere in this process are we using any chemicals,” said Gray. “There are no pollutants that are going to be coming out. We’ll meet all the federal and state regulations for environmental constraints. That is not an option for us. That’s just the way we do business.”

State Forester Greg Pate and Anthony Sessoms, chairman of the Economic Development Advisory Board, each also threw their support behind Enviva.

“What we need in the Forest Service is markets,” said Pate, who noted the state has 50 percent more wood than it had 50 years ago. “This will create a market for landowners for product that they direly need to have a market for. We can’t have too many markets. We would speak very highly and recommend that you adopt this project on behalf of (Agriculture) Commissioner (Steve) Troxler, the Department of Ag and the North Carolina Forest Service.”

Sessoms said the prospect of Enviva was one that meant good industry and good paying manufacturing jobs that are sorely needed.

“As more people will be employed in Sampson County, many of them will be spending money in Sampson County,” said Sessoms. “I am looking forward to the opportunity to see more jobs and more disposable income being spent in Sampson County.”

If the project moves forward, Enviva officials have expressed their intention with bringing the plant online during the first half of 2015.

“We are excited about the prospect of coming to Sampson County,” said Gray.

The board, following a closed session at the end of the meeting, said a decision would be delayed until the board’s Sept. 17 meeting to discuss budget.

Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at