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Wood pellet plant breaks ground in Sumter County

Construction officially broke ground Wednesday on a new wood pellet plant in Sumter County, which is expected to reach full production in 2025 and create 350 direct and indirect jobs in the area.

The plant is the Maryland-based Enviva Inc.’s 11th wood pellet production facility, and will be constructed in Epes on a 300-acre plot along the Tombigbee River; the same location that once housed the Mannington Mills wood flooring plant before closing and laying off 150 employees.

Gov. Kay Ivey was present at the groundbreaking ceremony, and called the investment, which is expected to be around $375 million, a win for Alabama’s rural communities.

“I’m proud that Alabama is continuing to invest in our small towns and make our state the best place to work, live and raise a family,” she said. 

“As some of you probably know, I’m a proud daughter of Alabama’s Black Belt and was born and raised just two counties over in Camden. So, believe me when I say that projects like this are truly close to my heart. Getting them done and providing for the people of West Alabama is personal to me.”

Founded in 2004, Enviva Inc. is the world’s largest producer of wood pellets, and primarily operates in the Southeast United States. 

Beyond plant workers, the new facility is expected to create new jobs in industries like logging and trucking, with the majority of the company’s wood pellets shipped to markets in Europe and Asia as renewable fuel sources.

Ivey said that the facility being constructed on the same site as the shuttered wood flooring plant, which dealt an economic blow to the area, would “breathe new life into this community and region as a whole,” and that Wednesday was “a very big day for West Alabama.”

The company first received the green light to develop the plant in 2019. There was some opposition because the facility, which will have the capacity to produce 1.1 million metric tons of wood pellets a year, is expected to require the cutting of 80 acres of forests daily, according to environmental groups.

The plant saw preliminary construction begin in July 2022, with Wednesday marking the groundbreaking of construction on the actual facility.

“We are excited to grow with Alabama as we remain committed to being a long-term source of green jobs and green investment across the state,” said Enviva CEO and President Thomas Meth. “We have been humbled by the strong support we have received from the local community over the last few years, and we look forward to formally being a part of the community and to being a good neighbor for many years to come.”

In a statement, U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, who represents Epes as part of Alabama’s 7th congressional district, said she was “thrilled” at the news, a noted the benefit such an investment would have on Alabama’s rural communities.

“It is imperative for the prosperity of Alabama that we continue to deliver more resources and opportunities directly to the people that need them most,” she said. “I am thrilled to see Enviva is doing just that by providing even more jobs to our rural communities through this expansion.”

The plant is projected to be operational in mid-2024 and operate at its full capacity sometime in 2025.

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