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Supervisors should quickly approve Enviva package

Published 10:41am Saturday, December 3, 2011

By almost any measurement, the announcement that wood pellet manufacturer Enviva has chosen to build in Southampton County is great news for a community that desperately wanted and needed good news.

When the facility is up and running, there will be 65 good jobs, and an estimated 80 jobs will be created in the forestry and trucking industries. The yearlong construction project will mean upwards of 300 construction jobs and millions of dollars in construction related revenue.

The positive impact on local tax revenue will be impressive as over a half million dollars is expected to be added annually to county coffers.

In addition to the obvious economic boon, this deal is for the community. It is also an impressive win for an economic development team that has taken a public beating the last few years.

Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc. has overcome significant obstacles to see this deal with Enviva come to fruition, including stiff competition from other localities.

The Board of Supervisors has been through the ringer as well, spending millions to develop the Turner Tract industrial park to lure companies with no success. Unable to disclose the imminent announcement of the Enviva deal during a heated election season, the incumbents in contested districts paid the price for the Turner Tract at the polls in November. Most rightfully, they deserve to see this deal completed on their watch before their terms expire at the end of the year.

Yet for all the positives, there remains a couple of hurdles before Enviva can start pumping out wood pellets.

First, the Board of Supervisors must agree to the package of tax incentives to entice Enviva to locate here. The package reportedly involves a rebate in the company’s annual tool and machine and real estate taxes over a 10-year period that will begin with a 55 percent rebate in year one and gradually declines to a 10 percent rebate in the final year.

While some find it unfair to offer rebates to new business while existing businesses pay the full rate, these tax incentives are virtually mandatory if a locality hopes to have a new employer relocate within its borders. Companies shop for communities like consumers shop for groceries; all things being equal, they’ll do business in the location where they can get what they need for the least amount of money.

It’s fair for Food Lion to reduce the cost of a gallon of milk to entice you to shop in their store instead of Farm Fresh, and it’s right for the county to offer these tax incentives to close the deal with Enviva.

The Board of Supervisors should unanimously approve the deal.

The second issue the Board of Supervisors must address — this one a little less pleasant than the first — is that they must also approve rezoning of the land parcel Enviva hopes to develop from single-family residential to industrial. The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on December 8 to hear the rezoning request, at which time I suspect neighbors of the new plant will voice complaints over noise and traffic concerns. No one wishes unwanted noise and traffic on folks used to living in the peace and tranquility that county living has to offer, but the Planning Commission should recommend the approval of the rezoning request, and the Board of Supervisors should again unanimously approve the deal.

Better days are on the horizon for Southampton County and all of Western Tidewater. I just hope that the current Board of Supervisors’ last and most meaningful act will be to swiftly and seamlessly help usher them in.

TONY CLARK is the general manager and advertising director at The Tidewater News. He can be reached at tony.clark@tidewaternews.com.

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