BY RICH JONES
ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR
US Nitrogen officials hosted Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., on Tuesday, showing off the beginnings of their massive facility and grounds under construction off Pottertown Road.
Following a brief tour, Haslam and Alexander seemed impressed with what they had seen of the 490-acre site that is starting to take shape.
"This plant fits into our strategic mission in economic development," the governor told a small group of local officials and US Nitrogen representatives.
"It's a competitive world out there," Haslam said. "Companies such as US Nitrogen can settle many places; our job is to attract them here."
Alexander cited the quality location, with excellent access to Interstate 81 and rail transportation.
The senator also said that better jobs are the goal, and that better schools are crucial to nurturing a well-paid workforce.
Earlier in the day, Haslam and Alexander, the state's senior senator, had been in Erwin for ceremonies proposing the Rocky Fork tract as Tennessee's newest state park.
PREVIOUS VISIT RECALLED
At the plant under construction in Midway, the governor recalled being in Greeneville in February 2011 for one of his first public events after being elected governor -- the announcement that US Nitrogen would be spending $220 million to build an ammonium nitrate plant in Greene County.
"We had to make certain the (state) budget was where it needed to be to be able to help with projects like this," he said on Tuesday.
Since that time, the state has invested $950,000 in infrastructure upgrades for the US Nitrogen project, especially for improvements to nearby wastewater treatment facilities.
TOUR OF THE GROUNDS
On the tour, Haslam and Alexander observed the early stages of construction.
They were driven around the site in a van on a cold, windy and rainy afternoon that did nothing to detract from the obvious size, scope, technology, engineering and infrastructure of the ongoing construction project.
The governor and the senator were shown the beginnings of what will be a 137-foot-tall concrete absorption tower that will weigh 440,000 pounds.
Also on the tour were a concrete cooling tower to be used for processed water; more than a mile of freshly-laid drainage ditches filled with riprap from local company Vulcan Materials, and landscaped retention basins.
"They seemed to have a very positive impression of the technology being put into place, and the investment that US Nitrogen is making here," said Jerry Fortner, president of C&C Millwright Maintenance Co., Inc., who is handling oversight of construction on the project.
At a brief gathering following their tour, Alexander and Haslam fielded a few questions, and received comments.
State Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-11th, of Cosby, said that Haslam has "moved Tennessee business way up" in state rankings for economic development.
State Rep. David Hawk, R-5th, of Greeneville, said to Alexander and Haslam: "Thank you for the quick response here," noting the need for quality jobs and career technical training.
That training will be required for the estimated 80 high-paying jobs and eventual $4 million yearly payroll at the US Nitrogen plant.
Ground was broken for the facility in February 2012, and an initial target for opening was the third quarter of 2013.
That schedule has now been moved back to the first quarter of 2014, said Shawn A. Rana, vice president of Austin Powder Company.
US Nitrogen is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Austin Powder.
"Engineering has slowed us a bit," Rana told The Greeneville Sun.
"This is a large project with many components. We're still on track with the construction. The engineering part is a little behind," Rana said.
The design work is being handled in Atlanta by Weatherly Engineering, with 25 to 35 engineers and technicians currently working on the project.
Civil engineer Lori Jones, of Greeneville, is the local construction manager on the project, working each day out of a single-wide mobile home on the south side of the property near the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks.
"As soon as the engineers [in Atlanta] release a package, we're building it," she said.
Considerable work has already been done while waiting for the engineers to catch up.
Summers Taylor Inc. handled the site-grading for the property and C&C Millwright is doing the foundation work.
Fortner, of C&C Millwright, said that 750 yards of concrete have been poured at this point in the project and that a total of 9,000 yards will be poured by the time the plant is complete.
ABOUT US NITROGEN
US Nitrogen will produce liquid ammonium nitrate at the plant.
Company officials have repeatedly emphasized that the chemical is neither explosive nor flammable and that it will be transported elsewhere for its end use.
Austin Powder Company, the parent company, has been in business since 1833 and is a prominent domestic and international producer of explosives used in quarrying, mining, construction, and seismic projects.
Company officials have said that US Nitrogen eventually plans to produce 420 tons of liquid ammonium nitrate per day at the plant.
Nitric acid and ammonia will also be made there for use in production of the ammonium nitrate.
When the plant is fully operational, plans call for about 20 truckloads of the liquid ammonium nitrate to leave the facility each day for facilities in other states.
The ammonium nitrate solution that will be manufactured at the plant is known as ANSOL or ANS.
It will be produced for use at other locations by Austin Powder as an ingredient in explosives.
Company officials have repeatedly stated publicly in response to some local concerns about safety, that, by itself, the liquid ammonium nitrate is neither flammable nor explosive.
After being manufactured here, they explain, the liquid product will be transported to other company plants elsewhere for combination with other ingredients under certain conditions to form material for use as explosives.
"While we are an explosives company, we aren't going to be making exposives here. I think that's an important thing to realize," James Boldt, CFO of Austin Powder Company, has stated.
BIG EMPLOYER, CUSTOMER
The US Nitrogen plant will have a full-time workforce of 80 employees with jobs paying an average of $50,000 a year, company officials have said.
The company will purchase massive amounts of electricity, water and natural gas:
* an estimated $18 million annually in natural gas;
* an estimated $5 million annually in electricity; and
* an estimated $1 million annually in water.
The 490-acre US Nitrogen site represents the largest tract of land owned by any industry in Greene County, Fortner said.
The plant will include the 2-to-3-story cooling tower, and will require 800 gallons of water per minute, around-the-clock and seven days a week, for 340 days each year.
The plant will purchase its water from the Town of Mosheim, which in turn receives its water from the Greeneville Water Department.