Residents ask ‘why here?’

Published 9:20 am Friday, December 2, 2011

COURTLAND—Robert Pope is thrilled to see new jobs coming to Southampton County.

He’s just not happy with the location — close to his Shady Brook Trail home — that Enviva Courtland Pellets has chosen to build its $75 million to $85 million plant.

“This was my little part of heaven,” said Pope, an International Paper retiree, who blames the former Franklin paper mill for his hearing loss some 30 years ago.

“I’m going to have to sit here and listen to a grinding noise 24 hours a day, plus trucks beeping and backing up,” he continued. “We have 55 houses right here in this development, and there are 28 families on New Market Road. You’re talking 85 families whose way of life will be affected.”

Enviva on Wednesday announced plans to build a wood pellet plant 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.

The mill is expected to create 60 to 65 jobs that will pay an average of $37,000 a year. Another 80 jobs are expected to be created in the timber and trucking industries and 300 workers will be needed during the 11-month construction period for the plant.

Enviva must get permission from Southampton County to rezone the property from single-family 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.

Pope and Shady Brook Trail neighbor Woody Saunders wonder why Enviva didn’t choose to build its plant at the Turner Tract, a 492-acre industrial park developed by the county on Rose Valley Road.

“We have $17 million invested in the Turner Tract,” Pope said. “We’ve got all that money sitting there.”

“We are willing to welcome the jobs, but want to know why they are putting it (here),” Saunders added. “Why does the company want to come in the middle of a residential area when the county has spent millions on the Turner Tract?”

Enviva spokeswoman Elizabeth Woodworth said building the plant at the Turner Tract would have made the project cost prohibitive.

“Also, the industrial park doesn’t have a natural gas line and that’s something that is absolutely imperative for our manufacturing process,” Woodworth said.

The company likes the Shady Brook Trail site because of its proximity to a natural gas line and state highway, she said.

“We build in other communities and we strive to be a good neighbor,” Woodworth said.

Shady Brook Trail residents Carmaletia and Ben Foust on Tuesday traveled to Enviva’s plant in Ahoskie, N.C., which recently opened and is similar to the one planned for Courtland.

“There are not but two houses that are affected,” said Carmaletia Foust, a retired Franklin teacher. “The noise from the Ahoskie plant was very, very bad. We are convinced that we won’t sleep again. The only thing is it didn’t stink.”

She’s all for new jobs.

“I don’t want people to throw rocks at my home or hate me,” Foust said. “Why are they not putting it in the industrial park?”

Saunders, who has two young children, is also concerned about the truck traffic and wonders why a company would want to move into a residential area and what could follow.

“If they turn around and do rezone this industrial, what else is coming? A 7-Eleven? A gas station?”