N.C. ethanol facility may benefit area

Published 10:51 pm Friday, October 17, 2008

BOYKINS — Local officials are hoping the area will receive some benefit from a $212 million ethanol plant proposed for Seaboard, N.C.

East Coast Ethanol, LLC announced Tuesday that it plans to build four corn-based ethanol plants in four states, one of which will be sited on a 414-acre parcel just west of Seaboard.

ECE, based in Columbia, S.C., said the three other plants would be constructed in Chester County, S.C., Wayne County, Ga., and Jackson County, Fla.

Trains bound for the proposed ethanol plant would use the CSX Railroad, which traverses the southern tier of Southampton County, and the North Carolina & Virginia Railroad. Truck traffic would use Virginia Routes 35 and 186.

All of those roads and rails converge at Boykins, 15 miles northeast of Seaboard.

Gary Baugham, a past member of the Boykins Town Council, said he is concerned about any uptick in train traffic from the proposed plant.

“We were already having an issue with the train,” Baugham said, citing an incident from earlier this year when a rescue crew from Boykins was unable to reach a woman in Branchville because a train was blocking the road. The woman died.

“The main thing is safety,” Baugham said. “We’re for progress. You can wait a few minutes for a train; that’s not a big deal. But when there’s an emergency — that’s a problem. There have been several times that a rescue squad hasn’t been able to cross the tracks.”

Baugham suggested that an overpass be built in Boykins for cars to go over the tracks. As an example he cited the Jamestown Lane bridge, which carries traffic over the CSX Railroad just east of the International Paper mill in Franklin.

Compounding the problem, Baugham said the CSX and NCVA railroads routinely leave freight cars for each other to pick up in the Boykins area. He also estimated that trains now come through Boykins about four or five times daily.

“We’re concerned that (the Seaboard plant) will be right next to us, but they never got any input from the citizens here,” Baugham said.

Boykins Mayor Spier Edwards disagreed that trains would be an issue once the plant is built.

“I don’t really think it’s going to be a problem,” Edwards said.

Edwards said he met with a CSX official in Boykins on Wednesday to discuss other unrelated issues, but did ask about the ethanol plant and the possibility of increased rail traffic.

“(The CSX official) didn’t know anything about it,” Edwards said.

But having more jobs come to the area is a tantalizing possibility.

“Maybe some of the people in our area will be able to get jobs there,” Edwards said. “Anything that is going to help the economy is welcome. Maybe some of the people who lost their jobs at the Southampton Correctional Center can get jobs down there.”

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine announced last week that the prison would be closed. 116 people will lose their jobs.

Edwards said area farmers could also benefit from the ethanol plant.

“We don’t grow much corn here,” Edwards said. “It’s a drop in the bucket. But maybe now some farmers will grow corn. They wouldn’t have to pay for all of that freight. They would have a market for corn.”

Edwards said that he hadn’t spoken to any farmers about rotating corn into the crops they grow, but said that for the last two or three years corn has been earning a good market price.

Referring to farmers, Edwards said, “I ultimately think it would be good for them to jump on the bandwagon.”

Southampton County was apparently not in the running for the ethanol plant.

“Not to my knowledge,” John Smolak, president and CEO of Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc. said, when asked if ECE ever considered Southampton County.

“There have been several ethanol projects moving through the state, but I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to anyone with (ECE),” Smolak said.

Smolak could not confirm if any economic development officials at the state level had ever met with ECE.

When asked if the ethanol plant could have been built in Franklin or Southampton County, Smolak said, “Certainly we could have explored that possibility.”

But Smolak is hopeful that people from this area would get jobs at the Seaboard facility.

“That’s a fairly easy commute,” Smolak said. “That’s a reasonable commute. Some people are already driving 15 to 30 miles for work. People living in the Boykins area should be able to take advantage of this opportunity.”

Fagen Inc., a company based in Granite Falls, Minn., will design and build the Seaboard plant, according to ECE.