County is all in for $700,000
The Haywood County Board of Commissioners took official action on a proposed $700,000 county contribution of upgrade natural gas capacity — an action that will directly benefit Evergreen Packing, Inc.
Canton’s paper mill is facing a $64.8 million environmental upgrade, and part of the answer is converting two boilers to natural gas. Company officials have asked county and state leaders for assistance, and the first step of fulfilling the request officially occurred Monday at the county board meeting.
On March 3, the county learned that a $2.8 million N.C. Department of Commerce grant had been awarded providing the county puts up $700,000 in matching funds. The board unanimously approved sending a letter to the department with a copy to Evergreen Packaging, stating the county approved the grant terms.
Commissioner Kevin Ensley said the action will help more than just the mill.
“To me, natural gas is the fuel for America’s future, and we are being very proactive going after it,” he said.
Ensley said natural gas is a much cleaner, efficient fuel and increasing its capacity will add needed infrastructure in the county.
Commissioner Bill Upton said the broader message being communicated is that the county wants Evergreen to stay in the county.
Commissioner Mike Sorrells said the mill provides good-paying jobs — ones that would be hard to get back if they were lost.
“There are a lot of moving parts to this,” Sorrells said, noting Mark Clasby, the county’s economic development director, has worked hard to put together a package to help the plant with the upgrade expenses.
“If everything works out, we will have Evergreen here for a while,” he added.
“Economic development is not just attracting new jobs,” stressed Haywood County Commission Chairman Mark Swanger, “it is keeping the jobs you have.”
Swanger recalled that 15 or 20 years ago, there was such a haze in Haywood County that it was hard to see the mountaintops.
“When was the last time we had that?” he asked. “This is all part of the process.”
Swanger noted that the county has done what it has been asked to do in helping a major employer in the county and noted the mill has authorized spending funds for the necessary engineering for a conversion.
While Evergreen has pledged to contribute $50 million for the project, that still leaves a $12 million shortfall that state legislators representing Haywood are trying hard to bring to the table.
Whether that will be possible should be clear this summer after the short legislative session adjourns.