Enviva inflates dome for wood pellet facility at Port of Wilmington

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Photo by: James Mieczkowski
The first dome (pictured above) was inflated at about 4:30 a.m. Monday and took almost three hours to reach its full size. The next dome (picture uninflated on the right) is under construction and is expected to go up in the next six weeks. Staff photos by James Mieczkowski.

Officials with the Port of Wilmington recently announced a second major facility addition aimed at keeping the port competitive with other facilities in the southeast.

Last week, the N.C. Ports Authority held a press conference for the national sustainable biomass company, Enviva, which unveiled plans to build a $50 million export terminal that is expected to create 30 new jobs and store up to 45,000 tons of wood pellets bound for power plants in Europe.

The announcement about the Enviva project came less than a week after N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory and port officials broke ground on a new 200,000-square-foot cold storage facility.

Construction for the new facility at the Port of Wilmington is expected to be completed within the next nine months.

“This move is part of a continued focus on efforts to expand economic opportunities in our state and enhance the viability of our ports,” said N.C. Ports Chief Commercial Officer Greg Fennell. “We are currently on pace for a record year at the North Carolina State Ports Authority, both in terms of container volume growth and financially.

“This partnership with Enviva, along with the addition of a cold storage facility will help us to continue the positive momentum from fiscal year 2015 into 2016.”

Raising the Domes and the good neighbor agreement  

Norb Hintz, co-founder and senior vice president of engineering for Enviva, said construction of the new Enviva export facility began in March and will feature two 170-foot tall storage domes. The first dome, which has an inside layer of foam and another layer of reinforced steel, was inflated Monday morning. Inflation began at 4:30 a.m. Monday, and the dome was up a few hours after that. The second dome is about 80 percent complete and is expected to be inflated in the next six weeks.

According to Hintz and representatives from Enviva, once completed, these domes can withstand winds up to 300 mph and will contain wood pellets produced from Enviva’s new $100 million Sampson County plant that is expected to manufacture more than 500,000 metric tons of wood pellets per year. The 400-acre site is about 70 miles northeast of Wilmington and pellets will be transported by truck and rail to the export terminal in Wilmington, Hintz said.

While these recent additions aim to keep the Port of Wilmington competitive in the shipping industry, some residents of the nearby Sunset Park neighborhood were skeptical about the new Enviva export terminal.

Read related story: Port projects prompt concerns about 170 domes in residential area

When the plant in Sampson becomes fully operational next spring, Enviva representatives expect 60 to 70 trucks per day to deposit loads of wood pellets to the Wilmington export terminal. The Historic Sunset Park Neighborhood Association expressed immediate concerns about traffic, air quality due to dust and particle overflow, construction noise and overall aesthetic of the domes.

Both sides came together at the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce last week, when they signed a “good neighbor principles agreement.”

The agreement included assurances from Enviva to advocate for a new North Gate that offers direct access to the port from Front Street in the vicinity of Greenfield Street, along with another internal roadway that will allow trucks to traverse the port without using Burnett Boulevard or Carolina Beach Road.

“We care about being good neighbors, and we care about being here for a really long time,” Thomas Meth, co-founder and executive vice president of Enviva, said.

To learn more about Enviva and its other production plants and storage facilities throughout the southeast visit the company’s website.

Willie Bordeaux, a site coordinator for Enviva, stands next to the bagged dome before it's inflation.
Willie Bordeaux, a site coordinator for Enviva, stands next to the bagged dome before its inflation.