One supervisor opposes Enviva rezoning; others undecided

Published 10:06 am Wednesday, December 7, 2011

COURTLAND—Southampton County Supervisor Walter Young expected some opposition to a wood pellet manufacturer in his Franklin District — but not the magnitude he’s experienced.

“I’ve had close to 75 phones calls, almost as many as (about) muzzle-loading,” said Young, who will vote against rezoning 346 acres so Enviva Courtland Pellets can build a $75 million to $85 million plant on Shady Brook Trail.

“If I’m going to represent my constituents, I need to speak on their behalf,” said the outgoing Republican. “I know most of the people living in this area, but until they started calling me, I had no idea there would be 100 families affected.”

Five of the six remaining supervisors told The Tidewater News Tuesday they favor the 65 new jobs the mill would create but will listen to residents’ concerns before deciding how to vote.

Enviva at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 8, will ask the county Planning Commission to recommend rezoning the property from single-family to industrial. The public hearing will be held at the County Office Center in Courtland.

The Board of Supervisors during its 8:30 a.m. Monday, Dec. 19, meeting is then expected to vote on whether to rezone the property. That meeting also will be held at the County Office Center.

The Dec. 19 meeting will be the last for Young and Supervisors Walt Brown, Anita Felts and Moses Wyche. All lost their seats during the Nov. 8 election.

Enviva has an option to buy property from Warren H. and Susan Story and FIATP Timber. The mill plans to pay employees 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.

Officials have spent a year working on getting Enviva here.

Berlin-Ivor District Supervisor Ronnie West said County Administrator Mike Johnson has worked diligently to make Enviva work.

“We want business, we need business, we try to accommodate that,” said West. “It would’ve been my wish (that Enviva) go in the (Turner Tract) industrial park. They looked at a number of sites and even chose another site.”

He wants to bring the jobs to the county, but will listen to residents’ concerns.

“It would be my desire to do whatever is necessary, whether it be berms to make it aesthetically pleasing and control the noise,” West said.

Brown, who represents the Newsoms District, stressed that economic development in the county is a must.

“The vision for jobs and job creating is mandatory,” he said. “Otherwise, in the long-term, the county could become a bedroom community. When the seniors die off, it could become a ghost town.”

Brown hopes the plant would be built in a wooded area and a buffer could be provided. He’s concerned that saying “no” to the rezoning could set a precedent with other industry coming here.

“Other clients have been networking over the years and may be close to coming to Southampton County,” he said. “We have to be very careful and tedious in our approach to make sure we don’t give the impression that Southampton County doesn’t want industry here.”

Courtland District Supervisor Carl Faison understands residents’ concerns.

“I know how bad the county needs the tax revenue and the jobs,” Faison said. “That’s something we’ll have to weigh. I will be open-minded.”

He noted that Enviva was shown the Turner Tract and encouraged to develop there. Enviva chose not to because of the unavailability of natural gas and claimed it would be cost prohibitive.

“If I had to vote today, without hearing the people, I would vote ‘yes’ because we need the jobs,” he said. “I certainly want to listen to the people.”

Wyche, who represents the Capron District, said he understands residents’ concerns about a pellet plant in their back yards.

“This company is going to come in and bring in $4 million in tax revenue (over 10 years after rebates),” he said. “Everyone is taxes, taxes. It’s gotta go somewhere. I’m sympathetic to these people, but I hate to see the county turn it down.”

Felts, who represents the Jerusalem District, did not want to say how she might vote.

“I’m keeping my ears open,” she said. “I know we need jobs. Nobody wants anything in their back yard.”