On a bright fall morning, a never-ending stream of large trucks — many filled with logs — enter and exit a wood pellet facility in rural Sampson County.
The vehicles pass a checkpoint, then disappear behind a chain-link fence protecting bulky equipment that emits a constant humming and grinding sound.
This plant is run by Enviva, the world’s largest producer of industrial wood pellets. It’s one of the company’s four facilities in North Carolina. The wood pellets produced here are shipped to Europe, where they are burned for energy in plants that previously burned coal.
While ongoing international arguments over carbon calculations and wood burning’s role in turbocharging climate change are vitally important, how the industry impacts local communities locally is equally controversial.
A quarter of a mile away from the wood pellet plant in Sampson County is a small neighborhood of about two dozen modest houses and mobile homes.
Celeste Gracia / WUNC
Latony Herring sifts through different nuts and bolts in his driveway as he tries to fix his broken washing machine.
Latony Herring lives here with his family and he describes the plant’s noises as “a loud boom sound you can feel in your feet.”
“You could be doing dominoes on the floor and it’ll knock every one of them down,” Herring said. “So that’s aggravating. And I’m sitting on a cement slab,” he said about his home’s construction.
Besides the thunderous sounds, Herring also said trucks heading for the plant usually speed down the service road in front of his house.
“We got kids out here. I don’t let my kids come outside [anymore] because I don’t know when the trucks are going to come,” Herring said. “Their ball rolls out the street, [the driver] can’t stop, they’re gone. And I can’t do that.”
Next door, John Altmon has lived in this neighborhood for almost 20 years. He said it used to be quiet before Enviva moved in.
“You know that machinery you hear all the time? We didn’t have none of that,” Altmon said. “We didn’t have too much dust either, like that smoke that comes up from over there … And that noise. It’s like a grinding and a banging and all that.”
Celeste Gracia / WUNC
John Altmon rakes his yard on a fall morning. He’s lived in his house for 19 years.
But around the corner, Lillian Mincy feels differently about the plant. She said the noise, dust, and trucks have never bothered her.
“No problem at all. I think it’s great for the community, for the neighborhood, for people to get jobs,” Mincy said.
Many of the residents in this neighborhood are Black or Hispanic, and their families have owned these homes for generations.
It seems as though the community is evenly split. Half agree with Altmon and Herring: the wood pellet plant is bothersome and negatively impacts their livelihood. The other half agree more with Mincy: the facility is great for the economy.
Environmental advocates are concerned the wood pellet plant will have a long-term negative impact on the overall well-being of the community.
“I believe that even though there may be some economic benefit, that the detriments that occur are much worse than the alleged economic benefit that comes with …….