Controversial wood-pellet producer Drax creates new fund for Gloster community

Published 9:54 am Tuesday, April 23, 2024

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GLOSTER – The wood-pellet manufacturer at the center of controversy in Gloster is committing $250,000 to a new community fund aimed at improving the life of the town’s residents.

Drax, a UK-based renewable energy company, announced the Gloster Community Fund on Tuesday, saying the fund is earmarked exclusively for initiatives that will improve quality of life and support grassroots activities in Gloster.

“This latest investment is a direct result of working with community members where we operate, and it represents Drax’s ongoing commitment to listening to the concerns and desires of the people to take steps to respond,” said Matt White, Drax executive vice president of North America operations.

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Drax has operated the wood pellet facility in the 900-resident town of Gloster since 2016. Since its opening, residents have complained about the facility’s negative impact on air quality and the health of community residents, drawing the attention of national media reports.

In 2020, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) fined the company from Selby, U.K., $2.5 million for releasing more volatile organic compounds into the air than its permit allowed. In March 2023, the MDEQ issued another warning to Drax, noting that the company exceeded the legal limit of air pollutants allowed under its minor source polluter permit.

Following community outreach and conversations, senior Drax leadership visited with Gloster community members and town leadership in March 2024 to discuss actionable items to meet the community’s needs. From those meetings, opportunities were identified where funding from Drax could help, including educational and recreational outlets for local youth and the creation of a community advisory panel.

The latest commitments from Drax to Gloster residents include:

  • Dedicated $250,000 Gloster Fund: Will allow Drax to continue making lasting, positive impacts in the community and will be earmarked specifically for Gloster projects and initiatives that are designed to improve quality of life and support grassroots activities as part of our commitment to being a good neighbor.
  • Community Advisory Panel: To help Drax deepen community engagement and more effectively respond to community needs, we are creating a community advisory panel in Gloster that will be made up of community leaders and citizens to help inform Drax’s future investments in the region. This panel will help identify local priority issues and projects to be supported with the Gloster Community Fund.
  • Career & Job Opportunity Assistance: Drax leadership committed to working with the town to share job openings and opportunities. In addition to posting to the Gloster webpage, the jobs will be posted on the Gloster Town Hall community information board. Drax has also committed to working with Amite County High School and Southwest Mississippi College and Workforce Center to create easier pathways into Drax employment.
  • Donation of Computers: To help support educational and tutoring efforts organized by local organizations, including the Gloster Chamber of Commerce, Drax will donate computers to the Town of Gloster. The computers will be housed at the Gloster National Guard Armory where residents can use them for educational and research purposes.
  • Annual Town Hall Meetings: To better communicate and respond directly to community questions and concerns.
  • Bi-annual Focus Groups: To better understand and address community sentiment.
  • New Community Manager: Drax will welcome a new community manager in the coming weeks to help coordinate town halls and focus groups. This position will cover community engagement for Drax operations in the southern U.S., including Gloster.
  • Gloster Updates Webpage: Drax is launching a dedicated Gloster webpage that includes frequently asked questions, detailed information about the plant and links to the most recent job openings.

“I am delighted to see Drax’s continued commitment to our town,” said Jerry Norwood, Mayor of Gloster. “It’s not just dollars Drax is donating, but resources and time. Their investment not only boosts our local economy, but also underscores Drax’s dedication to our community’s growth and success.”

Before the community investments were announced, Drax donated $130,000 towards the creation of a walking track in the Gloster area, committed to fund the installation of air conditioning systems at the National Guard Armory Building, organized a turkey giveaway event for 200 households in Amite County during the 2023 holiday season, sponsored STEM-focused programs for children, and provided financial assistance to local groups following natural disasters. The company joined the Gloster Chamber of Commerce in February.