County secures grant for Evergreen project
CANTON — As Evergreen Packaging Inc. moves forward with plans to update two boilers to meet new federal air quality requirements, the county is contributing funds to help make natural gas a possibility.
In a December meeting with legislators and local leaders, Evergreen officials said they are willing to put up $50 million for the upgrade, which includes converting two boilers to natural gas. The total project is expected to cost about $64 million, and Evergreen requested help with the remaining $14 million.
County leaders, with the help of Economic Development Director Mark Clasby and Mark Sorrells with the Golden Leaf Foundation, worked over the past several weeks to apply for a grant from the NC Department of Commerce for the project.
During the Council of Government meeting Monday evening, Mark Swanger, chairman of the Haywood County Commissioners, said the county received word Friday they were awarded a $2.1 million grant. The county agreed to pay an additional $700,000 over the next two years out of county coffers.
"That total of $2.8 million is what Evergreen requested of the county," Swanger said. "It's a matter now of other funding sources coming through."
Swanger said the $700,000 will likely come from the fund balance and will be worked into the next budget cycle.
"If we didn't do this, and it resulted in a loss of hundreds of jobs, the $700,000 would pale in comparison to the economic impact that would occur," Swanger said, referring to the possibility of job loss at the mill if the upgrades are not made.
"You can look at it like when you're expanding a natural gas line. It's an infrastructure improvement. It's not just good for Evergreen, it's good for the county and others who will use the gas at some point," he said.
Before the two boilers can be converted to natural gas, a larger pipeline to Canton is needed.
Michael Ferguson, manager of manufacturing excellence with Evergreen Packaging, was pleased to hear about the grant and the county's contribution.
"As far as the project goes, we actually started the engineering part of the project in terms of the mill. We approved $1 million just for the engineering phase of this project," he said.
Having the financial support from the county gives Evergreen the green light to move ahead with the project, Ferguson said.
"It's still a very large investment, but the fact the county and state have stepped up for infrastructure is reassuring," Ferguson said.
According to the project timeline, it's expected to be in service by late 2016 to early 2017.
"That timeline is really where we need to be," Ferguson said. "When it comes to the grants, the timing could not be better."
Davis, Rep. Joe Sam Queen and Rep. Michele Presnell, who didn't attend the meeting, have been working at the state level to change legislation that will allow Haywood to qualify for a job maintenance and capital development fund grant. At present, the legislation only allows funding to the state's most economically distressed areas, and Haywood isn't in that category. Additionally, there were inadequate funds in the program to cover a $12 million request, so legislators will need to appropriate the money during the short legislative session that starts in May.
Sen. Jim Davis, who was also present at the meeting, said he recently spoke with Congressman Mark Meadows on the issue.
"You just need to know that he is working diligently to try and get some sort of extension so we can continue operating Evergreen until natural gas is available," he said.