By Briana Goins
DOBBINS HEIGHTS — Richmond County residents gathered for a health and environmental justice rally on Saturday afternoon at Dobbins Heights Community Park.
The Dogwood Alliance, an Asheville-based environmental organization, joined members of Concerned Citizens of Richmond County and Clean Air Carolina in an effort to raise awareness of the community’s call for a moratorium on the construction of an Enviva wood pellet manufacturing plant.
The facility was first announced in late 2014, promising to bring 80 jobs and invest $107 million in the county and is planned to be operational by the end of next year.
Rights and wellness were of the utmost concern, as the rally was geared toward informing, while emphasizing the importance of clean air and water as it pertains to the surrounding areas, in addition to concerns about “dangerous truck traffic.”
“Our county already has one of the highest levels of childhood asthma in the region, and cancer is the leading cause of death in Richmond County,” Kim McCall, secretary of Concerned Citizens of Richmond County, said in a statement. “We are already living with a CSX station, Piedmont Natural Gas, Perdue Chicken plant, and the Duke Energy complex. This Enviva plant is an additional injustice to our community.”
Emily Zucchino, community network manager of Dogwood Alliance, said they are working towards getting the Department of Environmental Quality to review and revoke the air quality permit because of the number of flaws present. She also added that the community did not have a chance to voice their concerns during a public hearing, because of the lack of interest.
Members of both groups showed up to a meeting of the Richmond County Board of Commissioners in February, but were not allowed to speak, because the public appearance policy — which has been in place for 20 years — dictates that those wishing to take part in the public comments section must sign up the Friday prior to the meeting.
They were turned away again this month, after signing up, because the policy also forbids speaking about an agenda item and an update on the plant was on the March agenda.
Danna Smith, executive director of the Dogwood Alliance said in a statement that the plant would leave the community “worse off” with torn-up roads, air pollution and “the degradation of their natural environment.”
“Tax dollars spent rolling out the red carpet for destructive industry takes dollars away from other much-needed investments in the community,” Smith said.
Other community leaders shared their concerns, but also stressed the importance of staying informed, sticking together and raising their voices to ensure that they are heard.
“I live less than a mile from the proposed site,” Debra David, resident and treasurer of Concerned Citizens of Richmond County, said in a statement. “The dust and the noise from the plant will affect the way of life for our entire community. Enough is enough.”
William R. Toler contributed to this story.