Enviva Pellets still laying groundwork for proposed 500,000-tonne wood pellet production facility in North Carolina's Sampson County; company has not made formal project announcement, may be ready to do so in next few months, says economic developer

CLINTON, North Carolina , February 12, 2014 () – Wood pellet manufacturer Enviva is still setting the groundwork for a Sampson County site, and local officials said they are confident it will come to fruition.

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.

"It's still a work in progress," economic developer John Swope said this week of the project. "In the last several months they've done a number of things to be ready to develop the site."

In December, Swope spoke with Enviva's engineers about coordinating meetings with local permitting agencies in taking all the steps needed for the first bit of dirt to be turned and construction to take place.

"They are continuing to do their due diligence," Swope said. "I don't know about the timing, but it continues to be at the forefront of their efforts. In the next few months, maybe they'll be ready to make an announcement."

He compared the progress to that of biofuels plant Chemtex, which is doing much of the same legwork prior to construction, however that site announcement has already taken place. With Enviva, while an official announcement is pending, many of the ducks are now filing into their rows.

With five wood pellet manufacturing facilities already located in the country, Enviva is seeking a sixth in Sampson -- a prospect that would bring jobs, industry and renewable biomass production locally, while benefiting local truckers, loggers, foresters and lumber companies in the region.

The county approved in September 2013 providing performance-based business incentives to Enviva to locate in northern Sampson, specifically at Exit 355 on I-40.

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, 300 contractor and project crew jobs during construction and roughly $35 million in purchases to be made in the area.

"That would be a tremendous boost for our logging and forestry industry in this region," Swope remarked.

Enviva representative Glenn Gray has previously noted that long-term contracts have long since been inked for the sale of what would be produced at the Sampson plant. Enviva 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.

"We don't build a facility until the capacity of that plant is already sold," said Gray. "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."

Of the five U.S. manufacturing facilities, two are in North Carolina -- one in Ahoskie and one in Northampton. Sampson would make three, and be a boon to the county.

"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."

Sampson would also see a 2.8 percent increase in its current $4.2 billion tax base. At a public hearing 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, which along with the incentives just three months later, was aimed at attracting the company.

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 said.

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," Gray has said.

Along with the "due diligence" being made by Enviva, Chemtex is currently in the development stages of locating a $200 million plant on a 40-acre site at Clinton Industrial Rail Park on Turkey Highway. The plant, which would be the first commercial-scale, advanced biorefinery in the United States, is expected to be operational by 2016.

State leaders announced the plant's location to Sampson in early December 2013, however local officials have been planning for the refinery's arrival for some time. The refinery would make ethanol from plants other than corn, producing 20 million gallons per year of cellulosic biofuel from locally-grown energy grasses, agricultural residues and woody biomass.

County manager Ed Causey pointed to both companies as being key players in a resurgence of Sampson's tax base and its existing local industries, big and small.

"From an economic standpoint, we are all looking forward to the beginning of construction for both the Chemtex and Enviva projects, which are expected to increase our tax base by more than $200 million," Causey stated. "Not only will these new companies create new job opportunities, they will also offer indirect benefit to many private enterprises."

The companies also represent a trend toward innovative, green, renewable industries, which is compatible with -- and complementary to -- Sampson County's agri-business environment, the county manager said.

Swope said the county is encouraged by the progress being made.

"Both projects are moving along and we are encouraged by that," said Swope, who noted Enviva's strides to make a site happen in Sampson. "We continue to see their desire and commitment. There are just a lot of things that need to be done to get everything in place. With projects like these, there are a number of internal factors that don't pertain to the site or us locally."

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


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