Wednesday, 27 September 2017 14:10

Wednesday's Top Story: Wood Pellet Manufacturing Facility Enviva Faces Challenges; Dobbins Heights Community Members Speak Out Featured

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Community members, local politicians and environmentalists gathered Tuesday to discuss Enviva's Dobbins Heights plant. Community members, local politicians and environmentalists gathered Tuesday to discuss Enviva's Dobbins Heights plant. Photo courtesy of C.K. Craven.

DOBBINS HEIGHTS – The wood pellet manufacturer Enviva proposed, and Richmond County officials have accepted, so it would now seem that this matrimonial union between industrial “progress” and the local community is imminent; all that remains for consummation of the pact is a matter of formality.

But there are many who have opted to speak now rather than forever hold their peace in objecting to this marriage of what they perceive to be strange, if not dangerous, bedfellows. 

In an effort to clear the air (no pun intended – atmospheric pollution IS one of the issues) and address any and all local concerns, the North Carolina Black Caucus hosted a public listening panel session on Tuesday, September 26  at the Dobbins Heights Community Center.

Present and actively participating in the meeting were officials of Dobbins Heights (Mayor Antonio Blue and the town council), as well as local area representatives (Kelly Alexander and Garland Pierce) for the North Carolina General Assembly, and personnel from Enviva itself. 

Likewise in attendance were members of the local group Concerned Citizens of Richmond County (CCRC) and its affiliate, Dogwood Alliance (an environmental protectionist entity based in Asheville), as well as Southern Environmental Legal Center staff.

As could be easily surmised, the gist of the discussion was a comparing and contrast exercise regarding the value of accommodating a new industrial presence versus the ultimate long-term costs to the local area in terms of possible negative environmental effects.

As the groom-to-be, Enviva sought to assure the bride’s family of its good intentions and quality of personal family heritage, to wit:  similar manufacturing facilities are currently operating in three other North Carolina locations (Ahoskie, Faison, and Garysburg) with no significant issues. 

There is also a shipping terminal that opened last December in Wilmington (to which most, if not all, of the Hamlet material will be directly transported) as well as other sites in Mississippi and Virginia (though it was noted that a Mississippi factory had indeed been temporarily “idled”).

It should be mentioned that a sizeable dowry had been provided to Enviva by the Richmond County bride ($1.6 million in tax incentives), thus demonstrating that a perception of being welcomed into the fold had logically manifested itself (in exchange, of course, for approximately 80 jobs paying an average of 23% more than the existent median pay rate throughout the county, as well as a net fiscal investment of $107 million in the local economy).

As a show of good faith, Enviva representatives offered access to their evidence of positive effects on the environment, their role in the overall reduction in total carbon emissions, and reports of their stringent efforts to ensure a safe and “green” operational process throughout the entire cycle of the wood pellet production, transportation and consumption process.

But alas, such an approach was insufficient to quell the hue and cry from the disgruntled members of the bride’s party, a group that constituted the majority of the 52 attendees.

Specifically, members of CCRC cited concerns of possible increases in what they contend are already high rates of asthma in children, cases of cancer, and shortened life expectancies for residents of the greater Dobbins Heights community and Richmond County in general.

Other cited concerns were mentioned in relation to the possibilities of increases in truck traffic congestion, wood particulates permeating the atmosphere, heightened noise levels, and other negative activities generally precipitated by and/or associated with manufacturing and related transportation operations similar to those already existent throughout the county.   

Such sentiments were echoed by the Dogwood Alliance personnel, as were more specific contentions that Enviva may also need to answer questions regarding factory emissions as well as their means and practices in relation to the initial extraction of wood from forests and swamplands.  These accusations were further denoted in disseminated Dogwood materials.

“Richmond County residents never had a legitimate opportunity to address these issues before things moved forward,” said Emily Zucchino, campaign organizer of Dogwood Alliance.

Ultimately, Enviva officials readily responded to each and every concern, offering objective scientific analytics to support their claims of good faith and purity of their intentions in conjunction with the county and all of its family members, both immediate and extended.

Enviva provided their own experts in both forestry management and air quality to convincingly address concerns regarding cited issues related to those respective areas.

“We welcome the open and honest communication,” said Karen Tripp of Enviva, citing the company’s long-term contracts with the European Union as well as progressive conversations with potential clients in Asia as evidence of the economic longevity prospects of Enviva.

With the notation that an appeal to intercede was made directly to Governor Cooper and that the outcome of a lawsuit filed against Enviva by Dogwood Alliance and the Southern Environmental Legal Center remains pending, the question and answer session was adjourned at 8:30 p.m. with little of anything definitive having been accomplished or decided.

Thus, unless an emergency annulment is issued by the courts and/or the NC governor in the immediate few weeks, it would seem that Richmond County will indeed be hosting a wedding reception soiree of some sort for the newlyweds by December of 2018, and, reluctantly or otherwise, will be offering a honeymoon toast of “Welcome to the Richmond County family, Enviva, for better or for worse!”