In November of 2011, Enviva, a major corporate wood pellet producer with international sales, began operations at a former Georgia Pacific sawmill in Ahoskie, NC. Residents close to the plant have faced 24/7 extreme noise levels and bright lights. They’ve lived with sticky wood dust that coats cars, buildings and lungs in just a few minutes, as well as dangerous heavy truck traffic. While European power plants seek huge shipments of wood pellets as supposedly “greener” fuel than the coal they burned in the past, eastern North Carolina has turned into the Southeast’s latest energy colony. Large swaths of clear-cut forest and enormous pellet mills, doing round the clock production, are now in the midst of formerly quiet communities with limited resources and political clout.
A new video about the community, produced by Dogwood Alliance for their “Forests Aren’t Fuels” campaign, shows residents irate about being “robbed” of their sleep, facing dangerous truck traffic and unending dust.
As soon as the Ahoskie mill started up, Enviva began building an even more massive plant near Garysburg, Northampton County, designed to produce over 1.1 BILLION pounds of wood pellets per year, to be shipped through a Virginia port to Europe. Belinda Joyner, Northeast Organizer for Clean Water for NC, lives in Garysburg and worked with residents around the Ahoskie mill to document noise and other impacts and get attention from state air quality regulators to the dangerous dust problem. Knowing of these extreme impacts in 2012, while the huge new Garysburg Enviva mill was under construction, Belinda urged her Northampton County neighbors to get involved in local planning decisions and talk to County Commissioners about their concerns.
The Garysburg plant started operations in early 2013. The mostly African-American residents living nearby were stunned by the noise, dust and traffic that suddenly slammed into their rural residential area. They began working hard with Belinda and the Concerned Citizens of Northampton County to bring attention of local officials to conditions that Enviva forces them to live with every day.
Recently, the County Commissioners considered a proposal to rezone a large area around the Enviva plant to “heavy industrial.” This was eye-opening to local residents, who couldn’t imagine how such a massive industry as Enviva had been allowed to locate in an area zoned for “light” industry. To prevent the entire region from becoming a “sacrifice zone,” the community has mobilized and held local officials accountable, coming in force to County Commission meetings and getting good media reports. The rezoning has been tabled indefinitely and the community continues to document impacts of Enviva’s operations.
Working to protect vulnerable communities helps protect vulnerable natural resources, too. The few dozen jobs created in these mills will disappear quickly as the source of wood close to the mill is logged out. Just as with other extractive industries, greed and shortsighted development will only leave blighted communities with less diverse economies than before the extraction began. Rather than such “hit and run” production, Environmental Justice calls for safe, sustainable jobs AND communities!