Last updated: July 08. 2014 5:14PM - 698 Views
By - cberendt@civitasmedia.com

Chris Berendt/Sampson IndependentEnviva representative Glenn Gray talks about the unforeseen delays in permitting the industry, poised for construction on nearly 200 acres off I-40 in northern Sampson. Once all permits are in place, construction would start 'within weeks,' he said.
Chris Berendt/Sampson IndependentEnviva representative Glenn Gray talks about the unforeseen delays in permitting the industry, poised for construction on nearly 200 acres off I-40 in northern Sampson. Once all permits are in place, construction would start 'within weeks,' he said.
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Wood pellet manufacturer Enviva reinforced their commitment to Sampson, with representatives saying that while permitting delays have pushed back the start of construction, a concerted effort has already been made to ensure work will begin “within weeks” once those documents are in hand.

The Board of Commissioners unanimously approved amending the existing incentive and land option agreements, extending both by six months until mid-January 2015.

“They fully expect that within the next six months they will be able to accomplish the remaining items that need to be accomplished in order for them to move forward,” Economic Developer John Swope said. “There has been a lot done by the company … preliminary engineering, geotechnical work, surveying … they have done a lot of work. When they are able to announce it and go forward and acquire the property, they will move very quickly. They are just not there now.”

Enviva Pellets Sampson LLC proposes to develop and construct a 500,000 metric ton wood pellet production facility, which would utilize wood biomass feedstock from the region, meaning more jobs, tax base and business for existing loggers, truckers and foresters.

In June 2013, the Sampson Board of Commissioners approved providing a 12-month option to Enviva Holdings LP for the 180-acre stretch at I-40 Exit 355. The county subsequently approved in September 2013 providing performance-based business incentives to Enviva to locate at that northern Sampson site.

At Monday’s public hearing on the extension requests, Swope did not say the company’s name nor release any incentive numbers relating to the project, citing a confidentiality agreement with the company. He alluded to a June 26 advertisement made in the Sampson Independent, in which the direct incentives were said to total roughly $2.2 million. The site itself, valued at $1.25 million, along with the development costs, at $740,000, would total an additional $2 million, according to the project figures.

For those incentives, the county would receive estimated property tax revenues totaling $4.4 million in the first 10 years.

Overall, the project would bring an investment of $107 million in taxable property, as well as 79 direct jobs at an average salary of $36,682. Enviva has estimated another 100 indirect jobs in the forest supply and logistics chain and 300 contractor and project crew jobs during construction and roughly $35 million in purchases to be made in the area.

While Swope did not mention the company, a representative of the company spoke during Monday’s public hearing. No one else spoke in favor or opposition.

Enviva representative Glenn Gray said his company was fully dedicated to locating to Sampson.

“I just wanted to take a moment to reinforce our commitment to moving this project to Sampson County,” Gray said. “We’ve been moving forward with engineering and equipment purchases. We’ve already made significant commitments in equipment. Things have not moved as quickly as we anticipated in getting all our permits. That’s the reason we’re asking for extensions on both these options.”

“We have not been able to secure them in the time we did on our other projects, but we are moving forward as we speak. As soon as our permits are delivered from (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) I think you’ll see activity within weeks,” he said.

Enviva officials said the company specializes in providing clean, sustainable, renewable woody biomass to industrial-scale customers seeking to decrease their dependence on fossil fuels and reduce their carbon footprint. Gray said last year that long-term contracts have long since been inked for the sale of what would be produced at the Sampson plant.

There have been logging families who have gone under due to the struggling economy and markets that have dried up. Enviva would pump renewed life into local industry and offer more markets, which is direly needed, many in those industries have said.

“A lot of loggers have been asking about you,” Commissioner Billy Lockamy echoed Monday.

“My inquiries were nothing like Mr. Lockamy’s. Mine were on the other side,” Commissioner Albert Kirby noted. “You were good enough to share with me the differences this project would have as opposed to the other ones that would have negative consequences. Any time that could be articulated to people who have concerns…”

Gray pointed to the 180-acre site, with an additional 20 acres the industry would have the option to purchase in order for an even bigger buffer.

“We’re going to be disturbing about 80 acres so less than half the entire acreage would encompass the plant’s site,’ Gray noted. “The rest of it will remain as it is in a pine plantation. We believe that is going to be a significant buffer to any noise that has been an issue at our other facilities. We’ve stepped up all of our control equipment several notches from that first plant.”

He pointed specifically to that plant, located in Ahoskie, which came under fire last year from local residents opposing a future plant in northern Sampson out of fears of noise and pollution.

“We’ve built two more since then and this will be the fourth one we’ve built. Fortunately for us, we’ve been learning at each one, so the equipment will be considerably more sophisticated,” Gray stated, noting that while that first plant is a similar size to the one slated for Sampson, it is on a 39-acre site, where Sampson’s will have a more sizable space. “Now it’s going to be on almost 200 acres, so the amount of buffer around the facility is going to be considerably more.”

Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121. Follow us on twitter @SampsonInd.

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