A planned Enviva wood pellet mill cleared a big regulatory hurdle, as the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality approved its air pollution permit at its meeting Tuesday.

The permit board’s unanimous decision came after a contentious May public hearing in Lucedale and a comment period that was extended from the required 30 days to 61 days by MDEQ officials. 

The plant, which could be the largest wood pellet plant in the nation, is designed to manufacture 1,420,500 oven-dried tons of wood pellets, which can be used to fuel overseas power plants, such as in Great Britain.

Maryland-based Enviva has seven mills in the Southeast and one of those mills is in Amory, acquired in August 2010. 

When MDEQ staff was asked about complaints from dust emissions produced by the Amory facility, they said there had been some complaints over dust. The Amory plant was originally built by CKS Energy in 2007 and acquired by Enviva in 2010. 

They also said the new Lucedale facility would have better emissions control equipment to mitigate the 250 possible tons per year of volatile organic compounds, particulates of less than 10 microns in diameter and smaller particles of less than 2.5 microns in diameter. 

Two of the audience members spoke about the pellet plant. Frank Figures, a local resident and opponent of the plant, says that the plant will be allowed to be periodically bypass its emissions controls. 

MDEQ said the plant would be allowed to do that 50 hours annually for plant startup/shutdown operations. 

Former Lucedale mayor Doug Lee said he supported the plant and thought it’d be a positive for George County.

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality and Enviva reached a settlement this year in a lawsuit filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center and Environmental Integrity Project to add more pollution controls and reduce emissions by 95 percent from Enviva’s wood pellet plant in Richmond County, North Carolina.

Enviva and Mississippi officials announced in January that the company — which makes wood pellets that fuel overseas power plants — will build a $140 million pellet mill and a $60 million loading terminal at the port in Pascagoula.

Enviva is expected to hire 90 employees in Lucedale, with 300 loggers and truckers possibly finding work supplying logs to the company.

Mississippi taxpayers will be providing $4 million in grant funds, with $1.4 million for a water well and a water tank, while the other $2.5 million is for other infrastructure needs and site working. George County will provide $13 million in property tax breaks over the next 10 years.

All of those incentives, if realized, could add up to $17 million or about $188,888 per job.

These wood pellets are made from low-grade wood fiber unsuitable for lumber because of small size, defects, disease or pest infestation; parts of trees that can’t be processed into lumber and chips, sawdust and other residue. 

The Lucedale plant will mill, dry and pellet the wood in a press, using natural polymers in the wood called lignin to act as a natural glue.