“The chamber is a pro-business organization, but we do not support any business that would have a negative impact on tourism, our citizens or the environment,” read a press release about the decision e-mailed Friday morning from the Chamber’s CEO Laurette Leagon to the Tribune.
Fibrowatt LLC is the company that proposed building a power plant outside of Elkin several years ago. The plant would incinerate poultry litter to generate electrical power.
The announcement by the chamber was the latest setback for the proposed power generating plant.
Two weeks ago, the Surry County Board of Commissioners issued an ultimatum to the company that if it was to continue to enjoy support from the county, it would have to show a “significant change in their corporate behavior.”
The issue of “Fibrowatt” has generated opposition to its siting from environmental groups and local residents concerned about its potential impact on the the area’s tourism economy and burgeoning wine industry
According to the press release issued by the chamber, the question as to whether the chamber should continue its support of the venture was proposed to the chamber’s executive committee after a presentation by Dr. Wells Stewart on a survey he recently completed in an attempt to determine the sentiments of chamber members about the Fibrowatt issue.
At the completion of the Stewart’s presentation, the executive committee decided to withdraw its support.
Yadkin Valley Tourism Authority’s Ann Ashman was present at the meeting for a “Visit the Yadkin Valley” presentation and said that she was “very pleased” that the chamber chose to make this decision.
“I believe it was a very good decision,” Ashman said.”The chamber supports the tourism authority and the vineyards and wineries, as well as all other businesses in the area. I believe it was a very supportive move in favor of the existing businesses that the chamber made this move.”
She said the Well’s survey results made the difference. “Clearly the survey was instrumental in the chamber reconsidering it’s original decision regarding Fibrowatt.”
Pat and Clyde Colwell, owners of Carolina Heritage Vineyards, just outside of Elkin, were in attendance at the meeting to speak about the negative effect they believed Fibrowatt would have on the vineyards and the wine business in the area.
“We had written a letter on behalf of the wineries and vineyards in the area asking that the chamber reconsider their support of the Fibrowatt plant,” Pat Colwell said. “There were three main issues about the type of business that Fibrowatt is that we feel would be very detrimental to the wine industry in the Yadkin Valley. The first issue is the 300-foot smoke stack that would be right beside Interstate 77 and visible to all motorist.
“We get a lot of visitors from Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania and people who live in those states see smoke stacks all the time,” she said. “If they see the smoke stack of the Fibrowatt plant, they will keep driving. They don’t want to visit an area where industry with smoke stacks are prominent. The second issue is that no one really knows what the dioxins, particulate matter and other elements being released into the air would do to the grapes. The perception of the possible toxins on the grapes would kill the AVA. Just the rumor of toxins that could be in the wines would keep people from buying the wines of the Yadkin Valley.
“The third issue is as the area is growing and wanting to be known as a wine region and tourism area, a plant such as Fibrowatt would stop the growth of wineries and vineyards in the area,” she said. “As an organic vineyard, we would be forced to leave the area. We could not take the chance of the toxins influencing our product. I know of two separate people who have purchased land in Surry County to build a vineyard and winery and they have both contacted the Surry County Commissioners regarding their decision not to build if Fibrowatt is allowed to be built. With the tourism authorities working to attract more vineyards to the area, it is unlikely that more would come to the area if the Fibrowatt plant is here.
“The average vineyard employs 13 people and with ours and the two that are planned, that would represent 39 jobs,” she said. “The Fibrowatt plant will employ less than 40 people, most of which would be truck drivers who may or may not be hired within the area.”
Colwell also spoke on the chamber’s mission statement and the purpose of their decision.
“I looked at the chamber’s mission statement and it did not match their position on Fibrowatt,” Colwell said. “The chamber’s purpose from my point of view is to promote growth and business, but not to promote businesses that would be detrimental to the existing businesses and the community. Each of the vineyard owners in this area have invested an average of a half to $2 million dollars in building a vineyard and winery. We provide jobs and bring tourist to the area who flow money into the community in purchasing products, dining and lodging.
With the growth of the wine industry in the state and most prominently in the Yadkin Valley, the Fibrowatt plant would stop that growth and possibly force out the industry (wine), in this area.”
Colwell spoke of the initial decision of the Surry County Commissioners to bring the Fibrowatt plant to Surry County and her hopes that they also would rescind their support.
“The area vineyard and winery owners had signed a petition over a year ago asking that the commissioner not bring Fibrowatt to our area and the commissioners blew it off,” she said. “We need to have a county commissioner to stand up and say we know more about the Fibrowatt plant now than we did when we first gave them our support and with that knowledge we have decided we do not want this for our county. t