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Choctaw County denies Georgia Pacific abatement

Commissioners approve package totaling half requested amount

The Georgia Pacific plant in Choctaw County was denied a requested tax abatement related to expansions at the Naheola plant, instead receiving a lesser abatement than that requested.

GP officials are seeking abatements totaling about $3.6 million to offset costs of $300 million for expansion and equipment. According to a published report by the Choctaw Sun-Advocate, a motion made during a Choctaw County Commission special called meeting to approve the abatement died from lack of a second.

According to GP Public Affairs Manager Chris Hughes, the projects involved in the abatement requests involve updating older systems and making the mill more competitive.

“What we are talking about are investments that will help us be more competitive,” Hughes said.

Among the projects involved would be a biomass boiler system, updating the plant’s wood yard systems, and compressed air system upgrades.

“Production has changed over the years and these projects are important in allowing the plant to be efficient and competitive. The biomass boiler will allow us to operate more efficiently and cleaner. The wood yard is a keystone to our operation and we are working with a 30-plus year old system … we have to get trucks in and out faster,” Hughes added.

The Choctaw County Commission and other officials met for a work session on Friday to discuss the matter further, which could be a signal that the issue may return for another vote.

“I commend (county officials) for taking the time to understand the projects and everything that is involved. We understand they have certain priorities to consider,” Hughes said.

Still, Hughes said ultimately GP will make decisions based on what is best for the company.

“One thing we’ve tried to convey is that soon these decisions will be taken out of our hands,” he said. “If we can’t get a project done here, GP will find a place to do it. Our competitors have been granted abatements in other counties across the state and that puts us at a disadvantage.

“Five years ago there were questions about this mill and its future prospects, but GP has made the decision to invest in the mill. The fact they want to invest here sends a loud message,” he added.

GP’s abatement request was for 10 years from Choctaw County and would not include ad valorem taxes designated for roads, bridges and fire departments.

After the initial motion to pass failed to get a second, the commission discussed and ultimately approved an abatement package at 3.5 mills, instead of 7 mills, and for five years instead of 10. While the measure passed by a vote of 4-1, Choctaw Probate Judge Michael Armistead said GP would very likely not approve.

GP’s Naheloa mill employs just under 1,000 employees. Of those, about 40 percent are residents of Choctaw County with others traveling from neighboring areas, including Marengo County.

(This article originally appeared in the Saturday, August 11 issue of the Demopolis Times.)