On Monday, December 20, the Stone County Board of Supervisors met in a closed session to discuss a water service agreement with Enviva, the global energy company specializing in sustainable wood biomass.

For more than one year, the company has been working with elected officials to potentially establish a state-of-the-art wood pellet facility projected to produce over 1 million metric tons of wood pellets annually after completion.

County leaders met with members from the Board of Aldermen, Stone County Economic Development Partnership, and the Stone County Utility Authority.

Before entering the executive session, Board President Lance Pearson gave public attendees a chance to express any concerns or questions.

Two attendees addressed the board. Both are wary of Enviva's presence in the county.

Robert James told Supervisors he is concerned about Enviva coming here and polluting the air residents breathe.

"My concern is not dealing with the revenue, but with the safety…of the air," James said.

Resident Brad Alexander pled with elected officials to keep Enviva out of Stone County.

"I'm adamantly opposed to their locating at that site," Alexander said. "I have been in contact with many people in the immediate area, and I have not found anyone who is excited and welcoming in Enviva to this community, our specific portion of the community."

Alexander toured the Enviva facility in Cottondale, Florida, and visited the Lucedale site.

As a nearby landowner of the Bond site, Alexander said he was aware the company was looking into purchasing over 300 acres in Bond. But until recently, he believed the company would finalize a plant site somewhere else.

Now, Alexander said he is "in the process of rallying the troops" to stop Enviva from coming to Bond.

"I've been in contact with the people at Enviva, I've toured their plants, I've asked the questions, I've researched on my own, and I'm of the conclusion that it is not a good thing for this area," Alexander said.

Many of the concerns Alexander and James shared to the board were related to questions the Enterprise asked Enviva.

The company asked not to be interviewed but to have questions submitted through the public-relations pipeline.

"At Enviva, our job is more than making pellets," a company spokesperson said in response to the Stone County Enterprise. "We work to lower greenhouse gas emissions, support healthy forests, and build strong communities."

Enviva disputes claims from residents who worry about the company's operations in the community.

Rather than directly list specifics on how those efforts have kept residents near the proposed site informed about how the site would impact the community's quality of life, as requested by this reporter, the company reiterated Enviva's generic publicity stance on community development.

"Enviva has a dedicated community relations team whose core responsibility is to build meaningful relationships in each community, engage with local leaders and residents, and identify opportunities to give back and provide support as a business neighbor," the company said in a prepared statement to the Enterprise.

"We are very involved in Mississippi in the communities where we have existing plants, and should we move forward with our project in Stone County, we will be engaged in all aspects of the community as a good corporate citizen and neighbor. We have started some preliminary community engagement already in Stone County as we are working on developing and evaluating our potential project there."

In November, the only confirmed meeting Enviva representatives had with the public was when company officials visited with landowners after attending a groundbreaking ceremony near the Lucedale plant. Later, the company sponsored a trip to the Cottondale plant, invited a select number of nearby residents and elected officials.

"In November of this year, organized by local officials, Enviva participated in what was the first of many meetings with neighbors of the proposed site and offered a tour of one of our neighboring facilities to show what our facilities look like and how we operate," Enviva said. "This is part of typical education and engagement with the community on who we are and how we do business. We regularly host community meetings to brief our operations and, more importantly, answer any community members' questions. For privacy reasons, we are not able to disclose individuals' names."

Enviva also rejected the premise it required elected officials to remain overly secretive about the company's intentions.

Enviva refused to provide a copy of the non-disclosure agreement with Stone County officials as requested but clarified that public officials are free to speak about the company with limitations.

"Like other businesses, Enviva conducts early development activities of its business under confidentiality. This project is in its early development and assessment stage; if and once it moves forward, the information about the project and its details will become public as part of our community engagement process, permitting, and other business agreements," the company said via a spokesperson. "Board members can speak about Enviva, subject to their confidentiality obligations."

Before this week, all discussions of Enviva have been referred to as "project chipmunk" and, later, "project rhino."

Enviva is not a new company to Stone County. The company previously operated a pellet mill closer to the railway but sold it. The mill still stands unused to this day.

"Operations at Enviva's former Wiggins plant were not sustainable for our operating growth over the long term," the company said. "The potential Bond facility would be a more robust, sophisticated design."

Enviva said the Bond site had been identified because of its proximity to the Port fog Pascagoula and access to Highway 49, among other attributes.

The proposed plant site would be approximately 75-100 acres, Enviva said on Monday. The property for prospective purchase is over 300 acres, which would provide "an ample buffer zone around the plant itself."

In response to concerns about noise pollution to residents, Enviva said:

"Enviva is committed to environmental stewardship in the communities where we operate. We seek to improve the health and wellbeing of our communities by minimizing and controlling the impact on our neighbors from our operations.

Enviva purchases very large tracts of land, installs and uses best-in-class technology and procedures to minimize noise and any other disruption to the local community, including using natural buffers such as trees, built infrastructure, and mechanical controls. We do not use any chemicals in our production processes and have installed state-of-the-art, industry-proven air emissions control technology in our plants. We have implemented multiple levels of dust and air emissions control in our facilities."

This continues to be a developing story.

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