Gov. Tate Reeves (sixth from right) and officials from Enviva Biomass, Inc. at a ceremonial ribbon cutting at the Port of Pascagoula on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022. Credit: Enviva Biomass Inc.

PASCAGOULA — A bulk-carry ship packed with 47,000 tons of Mississippi-made wood pellets readied to take off for Japan Wednesday as state leaders gathered to celebrate its upcoming sendoff. 

The pellets, which are designed to be burned in place of coal, arrived at the Port of Pascagoula by train from George County. Enviva, the wood-pellet company, is the port’s newest partner and first started shipping pellets out in July. 

Enviva CEO Thomas Meth was on the Gulf Coast Wednesday to celebrate the massive $90 million project and the company’s growing Mississippi footprint. But in addition to the fanfare is the real possibility Meth could soon have to navigate a halt to his company’s usual supply chain between its 10 southeastern factories.

Rail workers have threatened to move ahead with a strike after failed union negotiations with freight companies. The unions are calling for paid sick days and other quality of life improvements.  

“I will tell you that it’s not the right time to have a railroad strike,” Meth said following the terminal’s ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday. “And we’re optimistic it can be avoided.” 

Experts have said a strike would shut down nearly a third of the country’s freight systems, adding to congestion and causing a domino effect even in areas – such as Mississippi – where unions aren’t as active. 

President Joe Biden is asking Congress to step in to block the strike – the consequences of which could cripple the economy. In response, the House passed a bill Wednesday that would force a contract agreement. Biden is now asking the Senate to act quickly.

“Without the certainty of a final vote to avoid a shutdown this week, railroads will begin to halt the movement of critical materials like chemicals to clean our drinking water as soon as this weekend,” the president said in a statement. 

As far as Mississippi businesses go, Gov. Tate Reeves told a Mississippi Today reporter Wednesday that most companies in the state that rely on railways have contingency plans in place should there be an extensive strike. 

“This particular company,” Reeves said, referring to Enviva, “and many others, for instance, have facilities that can utilize the The Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway to move product.” 

Enviva can also use trucks to transfer the pellets to the port – something it plans to do once its next factory is operating in Bond.

The company says it is the leading wood-pellet producer in the world. The massive white domes now at the Port of Pascagoula can hold up to 90,000 metric tons of wood pellets and are operated by about 30 local employees.

Reeves has worked closely with Enviva as it grows its Mississippi footprint. The state gave the company $4 million in grants to open its Bond facility. 

“We’re talking about decades of economic activity here in the State of Mississippi,” Meth said. “The world is hungry for wood-based biomass from Mississippi, so it will be a fantastic investment for the people of Mississippi – not only for our employees but the whole supply chain that we’re touching.” 

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