Wood pellet mill announced for Southampton County

Published 9:02 am Wednesday, November 30, 2011

COURTLAND—Sixty to 65 new jobs will be created with the construction of a $75 million to $85 million wood pellet manufacturing facility in Southampton County.

Enviva’s wood pellet plant in Ahoskie, N.C., which recently opened. - SUBMITTED

Enviva Pellets Courtland by middle of next year plans to begin construction, which is expected to take 11 months to complete while employing 300 construction workers, said John Keppler, chief executive officer and chairman of Bethesda, Md.-based Enviva.

Another 80 jobs will be created in the logging and trucking industries to supply timber to the mill for production.

Enviva recently opened a similar facility in Ahoskie, N.C., and has another under construction in Northampton County, N.C.

The Southampton County plant is expected to be built on 346 acres on Shady Brook Trail between Route 58 and General Thomas Highway. Warren H. and Susan Story and FIATP Timber own the land, and have an option to sell to Enviva.

“This really completes this stage of investment in the region,” Keppler said. “When we looked at Southampton County, we saw all the elements for success — a rich wood basket, skilled labor force and seasoned timber industry.”

John Smolak, executive director of Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc., understands the average salary will be $37,000 a year plus benefits.

“That’s an average of all the jobs,” Smolak said. “There will be upper class jobs, medium supervisor (positions) and production workers.”

Enviva will receive $6 million to $7 million in local, state and federal funding for the project, said Seth Ginther, an attorney for the company.

Gov. Bob McDonnell has approved a $300,000 grant that will require a match from Southampton County, Ginther said. For its share, the county will rebate a portion of the machinery and tools and real estate taxes from Enviva for 10 years, Ginther said.

At the current tax rate, the county expects to collect $6.8 million in taxes over the 10 years; $2.6 million will go back to Enviva for its machinery and tools tax and $260,000 on the land and plant, said County Administrator Mike Johnson. That leaves the county with more than $4 million.

“It’s clearly a nice project from an economic impact and it’s a substantial impact that will generate almost $600,000 in annual net revenue,” Johnson said.

The Board of Supervisors must approve the tax plan, which calls for a 55 percent rebate on both taxes the first year, 45 the second year and so on, with 10 percent rebated the final year, he said.

“It’s great for the community,” said Smolak, who has been working with the company for a year. “I think it’s a perfect match for a business that would be successful here. They’ve been a great company to work with and will provide the kinds of jobs that everyone is looking for, so it’s a very positive thing.”

Enviva must get permission from Southampton County to rezone the building site designated for single-family homes to industrial. A public hearing is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 8, before the Planning Commission at the County Office Center in Courtland.

The Planning Commission will make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors, who will act on the matter during their 8:30 a.m. Monday, Dec. 19, meeting.

The Courtland plant will be similar in size to the plant in Ahoskie and produce 450,000 metric tons of pellets per year. The Ahoskie plant will produce 410,000 metric tons.

Enviva’s primary market for the pellets will be major European utility companies, which are required to reduce the carbon footprint on energy generation.