Enviva abandons Shady Brook Trail site, goes to Turner Tract

Published 9:13 pm Thursday, December 8, 2011

COURTLAND—Residents’ anger turned into applause after a wood pellet manufacturer announced Thursday it would not build its plant in their Courtland neighborhood.

Enviva Wood Pellets, which met opposition from residents to build the $75 million to $85 million plant on Shady Brook Trail, will locate in the nearby Turner Tract Industrial Park instead. The move secures 60 to 65 new jobs and makes use of the county-developed park.

“I’m glad that it came down to a win-win situation,” said Shady Brook Trail resident Woody Saunders, who was among about 150 who learned about Enviva’s new plans during a public hearing to rezone the Shady Brook Trail property.

“We’re glad county officials listened to us last night,” Saunders said. “I want to personally welcome Enviva to the neighborhood.”

“We continue to be tremendously excited and enthusiastic about coming to the county,” said John Keppler, chief executive officer and chairman of Bethesda, Md.-based Enviva. “Fortunately for everybody, (Franklin-Southampton Economic Development Inc.) really stepped up.”

Enviva on Nov. 30 announced it would build on 327 acres zoned for agriculture and single-family homes. The company had an option to buy the property, assuming it could get the area rezoned to industrial.

On Wednesday, Enviva hosted an informational meeting for residents, many of whom expressed dismay with the plant so close to their homes.

After the meeting, Enviva officials approached county officials and talks involving Franklin-Southampton Economic Development Inc. began, said County Administrator Mike Johnson.

“I think the company took the community’s concerns to heart,” Johnson said. “They made it clear they wanted to be a good corporate neighbor.”

Enviva will buy 120 acres in the 493-acre Turner Tract on Rose Valley Road for $1.3 million, he said. The company will make no payments for two years and follow with annual $260,000 payments to the county for five years at no interest.

Enviva initially was not interested in the industrial park due to the unavailability of natural gas. It’s estimated it will cost the company $700,000 to get natural gas to the Turner Tract. The county will rebate 10 percent of Enviva’s costs over 10 years, Johnson said.

Enviva will receive $6 million to $7 million in local, state and federal funding for the project. Gov. Bob McDonnell approved a $300,000 grant that requires a match from the county.

The county initially worked out a plan to collect $6.8 million in taxes over the 10 years; $2.6 million would go back to Enviva for its machinery and tools tax and $260,000 on the land and plant.

Under the new agreement in the Turner Tract, Enviva will be rebated $1.96 million in machinery and tools tax over five years or 42 percent, Johnson said. There will be no real estate tax rebate.

At the current tax rates, Enviva will pay $1.25 million the first year in machinery and tools tax and $77,000 in real estate taxes.

The Board of Supervisors during its 8:30 a.m. Monday, Dec. 19, meeting will be asked to approve the agreement.

Enviva and the county reached the tentative agreement three hours prior to Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting.

“We are thrilled to become a member of the community and we look forward to many years of success together,” Enviva Project Manager Glenn Gray told the Planning Commission.

“We’ve very pleased Franklin-Southampton Economic Development could play a role in making (things work out),” said John Smolak, executive director for FSEDI. “The company will provide some great jobs for citizens and help the tax base.”

Outgoing Supervisor Walter Young, who vowed to vote against the rezoning in his Franklin District, also was pleased.

“I think they got the message last night,” Young said. “I think I’ve got a lot of happy constituents for the next 20 days.”