ROCKINGHAM — The Richmond County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday recounted the benefits Enviva promises to bring to the county in the wake of their release of a map showing how close several of them live to the site, which they feel proves that they have no concerns about the plant’s potential pollution affecting the surrounding community.
Though Dogwood Alliance was not present (a member of Concerned Citizens of Richmond County was in attendance to “listen”), it was as if the board was speaking to the activist group directly. Several commissioners’ statements were in direct contradiction to the points made by Dogwood Alliance.
On Sept. 25, a day before members of the North Carolina Legislative Black Caucus hosted a listening session in Dobbins Heights to field comments from both sides of the Enviva plant issue, Interim County Manager Bryan Land and Economic Developer Martie Butler ordered the production of a map showing the addresses of several members of the board in relation to the Enviva plant.
The map is meant to counter repeated charges by Dogwood Alliance and members of the Concerned Citizens of Richmond County that the plant is part of a systemic pattern of major industrial plants being built near minority communities where they create health problems and damage the local environment.
Kenneth Robinette, board chairman, lives closest to the plant at a distance of roughly two miles from the center point, with Land, Commissioners Thad Ussery and Ben Moss roughly three, 3.6 and 3.3 miles from the plant, respectively. Commissioner Herb Long, Jr. is not shown on the map but is just outside the outermost circle on the map.
“In economic development, we don’t look at neighborhoods (in determining where to build) we look at infrastructure,” Butler said in her presentation to the board Tuesday. “They needed to be adjacent to the rail which was first and foremost their concern.”
Butler discounted how many communities were in close proximity to the plant, saying there were not “too many” near the location and said that based on research by county leaders, “pollution is not an issue” when it comes to Enviva.
On the efforts of the the commissioners to look into Enviva’s business model, Ussery said that he had “never seen a cleaner operation” after a visit one of Enviva’s other plants. He added that humans have been burning wood “since the beginning of time” and that he “didn’t know of any (industry) cleaner than processing wood.”
Dogwood Alliance has contended that wood pellet processing is worse than burning coal in terms of producing harmful emissions.
Butler said the fact that the plant is so close to several of the commissioners’ houses demonstrates the confidence and knowledge that they had about the effects of the plant’s operation.
“As you can see by the map…there’s not a lot of communities (in the immediate vicinity) but within a four-mile radius it encompasses Rockingham, Hamlet and Dobbins Heights and several of the commissioners and Bryan Land are also located within this map,” Butler said. “I hope that this shows our leadership’s commitment to Enviva, and not only to the company but their confidence (that) they’re not putting any specific neighborhood in danger.
“They believe whole-heartedly that this is a very healthy facility and (will provide) great jobs and great investment for Richmond County and they’re not willing to risk or jeopardize their health or their families’ for this facility,” she continued.
Moss highlighted how “lucky” Richmond County is to have already had the infrastructure in place to entice Enviva build within its limits. Butler said that finding the amount of acreage that Enviva will use, roughly 400 acres, near a good highway system and rail service is “not very common.”
“We’re very lucky that they actually chose our county because…they were looking at different states, they were looking at different counties within North Carolina,” Moss said.
A CSX employee, Moss then put the question to Butler: “Not all counties have rail service do they?”
Moss again pressed for the numbers on salaries and additional investments the company will have in the area. The average salary for Enviva is around $38,000, and the current average of the county is around $30,000 to $31,000, according to Butler. She added that the initial investment from the plant is around $117 million which will go directly to the county’s tax base, meaning the county will be able to collect significant tax revenue from the plant.
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674.