HAMLET – The sun just managed to break through the clouds Monday morning as officials, politicians and assorted dignitaries gathered for an official groundbreaking event at the 125-acre site for the new Enviva wood pellet processing facility on Highway 177 north of Hamlet.
As the site will be Richmond County’s first large scale wood pellet production plant, the approximately 50 attendees were treated to coffee and pastries (as well as complimentary Enviva hats). They were then welcomed by County Economic Developer Martie Butler, who introduced the lineup of speakers and started by explaining how the Enviva project got to this point.
Also in attendance to celebrate the groundbreaking were Congressman Robert Pittenger, Senator Tom McInnis, Representative Ken Goodman, Enviva representatives, Richmond County Manager Bryan Land, and many of Richmond County’s Commissioners.
The virtues of Enviva, as well as the numerous ways in which this industry will benefit the citizens of Richmond County, were repeatedly voiced by each and every dignitary.
“We’ve been working on this project for a long time and are glad to finally have Enviva here in Richmond County,” said County Commissioner Thad Ussery.
Ussery offered a special recognition to former County Manager Rick Sago for his major role in relation to the Enviva project.
Fellow Commissioner Jimmy Capps, during conversation, confirmed Ussery’s view, noting that the Commission is very excited for this potential boost to the county’s economy and the amount of work that had been done to facilitate such.
Goodman and McInnis joined Pittenger in welcoming Enviva and its economic benefits to Richmond County.
“Building this new facility would not only help our county but also help American exports as well,” Goodman said. “The North Carolina General Assembly is more than willing to help however they can with our rural economy to bring in new jobs.”
McInnis echoed Goodman by saying that approximately 126,000 people in North Carolina are somehow connected to some type of forest industry. He noted that Enviva was here to stay, and that he had visited another Enviva location recently, and in one day’s time there were 250 truckloads of materials that came into the plant.
“This would mean more jobs for truckers, mechanics, tire companies, foresters and many more types of jobs that would be required to get out the finished product,” McInnis stated.
Aerial “view” of superimposed structures and layout for the Enviva site on 177 north of Hamlet.
Richmond County Commission Chairman Kenneth Robinette, County Manager Bryan Land, Rockingham Mayor Steve Morris, and Hamlet City Manager Johnathan Blanton were all in attendance, as was RCC President Dale McGinnis and Richmond County Chamber of Commerce representative Seth Allen.
Enviva representative Royal Smith (who spoke in place of an absent Enviva CEO John Keppler) offered the company’s thanks to the officials and people of Richmond County, indicating that the construction process is on schedule for a December 2018 opening.
Smith expressed CEO Keppler’s personal appreciation for the manner in which Richmond County has accommodated Enviva and how he and his personnel are looking forward to working here, the fourth such plant in North Carolina.
Smith went on to offer some impressive statistics in relation to the output and benefit that is foreseen for the Hamlet plant. The facility will directly employ about 80 full-time workers (at a rate that is 23% above the current county average) and will create and support an additional 180 jobs (over and above the 670 such North Carolina jobs for which Enviva is currently responsible) in logging, transportation, and local services associated with the wood pellet industry.
The predicted increase in sales for North Carolina loggers is estimated to be over $23 million, and Enviva will continue to source timber from more than 1,000 private landowners in the state.
It was also explained that the number of homes that could be heated by the pellets that will be coming from the Hamlet plant alone is upwards of 200,000 annually and the company foresees contributing $3.37 million in taxes to the state’s economy.
Enviva does much more than is required to ensure the sustainability of the environment. The Enviva Forest Conservation Fund is cited as a primary means by which the company ensures the continuing health of the North Carolina forests.
The company has invested $500,000 in the past two years in this program. Further, Enviva maintains a “Track and Trace” system to offer direct and immediate transparency into its operations.
North Carolina Forestry Service personnel and Richmond County Ranger Matt Gordon confirmed Enviva’s contentions in regard to the forestry sustainability aspect of its business.
“Ultimately, more trees will be planted than will be harvested,” Gordon said. “The replanting process, over time, will actually result in a greater tree count per acre.”
It was also noted by the forestry experts that different types of wood fibers that were heretofore totally wasted could now be used by Enviva as viable resources, thus rendering a greater return on energy production while simultaneously reducing waste products.
“Wood that was formerly just left to rot can now be collected and sold, thus reducing waste while also lowering costs of the process,” explained Assistant District Forrester Bill DeMay.
And so, from the perspective of those in attendance, the Enviva groundbreaking ceremony indeed denotes a new (and positive) chapter in the continuing economic progress of Richmond County.
RO contributors J.A. Bolton and C.K. Craven contributed to the information in this article.