ROCKINGHAM — Richmond County commissioners have taken exception to statements made by members of the Dogwood Alliance and Concerned Citizens of Richmond County suggesting that the impending Enviva wood pellet processing plant is part of a systemic pattern of polluters building next to low-income and minority communities.
Interim County Manager Bryan Land and Economic Developer Martie Butler on Monday ordered a map be made showing that, in fact, three commissioners and Land live closer to the site than Dobbins Heights, the nearest municipality and which is 83 percent black, according to the 2000 census.
Kenneth Robinette, board chairman, lives the closest to the central point of the Enviva plant — roughly two miles away.
“Dogwood Alliance claimed that harmful industries such as Enviva often locate their plants in areas populated by the poor and people of color, communities under-represented in political life,” Bulter said in an email. “As you can see in this case, that is absolutely false. We have three county commissioners and an interim county manager all living much closer to the epicenter of the Enviva site than the community of Dobbins Heights.”
Butler referred to a June 21 article in the Daily Journal as the impetus for the creation of the map, though she said that the activists have made similar statements many times since.
The article described a video released by the activist group as showing speakers who “complain that harmful industries often locate their plants in areas populated by the poor and people of color, communities traditionally under-represented in political life.”
Robinette called such claims “smoke and mirrors” and said that the only reason for the plant being put near Dobbins Heights was because of the proximity to the CSX rail yard.
“It’s so sad that the corrupt Dogwood Alliance would try to use that as an excuse,” Robinette said. “It’s sad that they try to use minorities that way.”
County leaders say that Dobbins Heights leadership was not consulted prior to bringing in Enviva because the plant did not require the town to provide services or utilities.
In response, Emily Zucchino, campaign organizer for Dogwood Alliance, said that the map is misleading because it measures the distance to Dobbins Heights’ town hall and doesn’t consider residents closer to the plant’s location, such as those in the Ponderosa community
That community — roughly a mile from the site — is outside of the town limits of Dobbins Heights, and is not incorporated in any municipality.
“None of this changes the fact that the community was never given a public hearing, which is required by law, or the fact that…Dobbins Heights is still an (environmental justice) community that will be affected by this plant,” Zucchino said in an email.
“Given that several of the commissioners will be living near the plant, I’m wondering why they didn’t show up to the public session on Tuesday night?” she said, referring to a meeting held by members of the North Carolina Legislative Black Caucus to hear from residents on the issue of the plant, as well as from representatives from Enviva.
At that meeting, the Rev. Cary Rodgers, an environmental activist and member of CCRC, said that Enviva’s plants in Northampton and Sampson Counties are located near poor, rural and minority communities.
“Most of these polluting industries, and this is not just happenstance, this is not just coincidence I don’t believe, it goes into rural areas that have a high population of minorities,” Rodgers said. “Enviva and the state did not look at the cumulative impact of all they’re doing. What they want to do is create a dumping ground in a place where people are already suppressed from speaking up.”
Commissioner Ben Moss, whose property is the closest to Dobbins Heights of those on the map, said that from what he’s learned, Enviva is a “safe plant.”
“You have to look at the facts, and it seems like a lot of what Dogwood Alliance does is based on feelings,” Moss said. “I certainly wouldn’t support anything I thought would endanger my life or my kids’ lives.”
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674.