A lawsuit filed Friday by a property owner along the planned pipeline between US Nitrogen and the Nolichucky River claims the company and another party trespassed on his land, causing damage that resulted in the death of a horse.
Brock Wampler lives at 2400 Midway Road, along the route of the planned 12-mile pipeline, which has been disputed in other civil lawsuits filed against US Nitrogen and the Industrial Development Board of the Town of Greeneville and Greene County. The two entities are also defendants in the civil action filed Friday, which seeks at least $500,000 in damages and demands a jury trial.
Spokesmen for US Nitrogen and the IDB said last week they are doing all pipeline work within the rights of way defined in a previous agreement.
Wampler's lawsuit alleges otherwise.
OWNS HORSE FARM
Wampler, of Midway Road, owns a 41-acre farm fronting on McDonald Road, also known as state Highway 348.
He has owned and bred walking horses and has actively been involved for 28 years in the Tennessee Walking Horse Association, according to the lawsuit, filed in Greene County Chancery Court by Knoxville lawyer Bill W. Petty on behalf of Wampler.
The lawsuit said that in December 2013, Wampler had 19 horses on his property, including a mare that produced a foal valued at $150,000. The mare "was due to deliver another foal in approximately three months," the lawsuit said.
A state right of way exists on McDonald Road in front of Wampler's property that is 12 feet wide from the edge of the road to his property-line fence. Within that property line, there is a fiber optic cable that provides telephone, Internet and other services to Wampler and other subscribers along the road, according to the lawsuit.
Because of the size of the pipelines US Nitrogen is planning to install, and the cable wire being in the existing right of way, the water lines "likely must encroach upon (Wampler's) property," the lawsuit said.
MAN 'DIGGING HOLES'
In November or early December 2013, Wampler saw a man on his land digging holes without his permission, the lawsuit claims.
"(Wampler) had no advance notice or request for anyone to come upon his land and certainly gave no one authorization to put flags nor pins of any nature on his property," the lawsuit said.
Flags with small metal pins were placed on the property "for the purpose of locating an easement for the proposed waterline," the lawsuit states.
When the defendants dug holes and placed the flags in Wampler's pasture, there were five horses in the field, the lawsuit said.
At the time in December 2013 when the flags were placed, the lawsuit said that Wampler was out of town on business. He received a call from a neighbor who told him that the mare "was down in the field where she had been for some period of time," the lawsuit said.
The neighbor told Wampler that some of the flags appeared to have been pushed over.
"It was clear that the right rear foot of the mare had stepped on one of those metal pins, resulting in the hoof being fractured and in a condition where it was coming off the horse's foot," the lawsuit said.
Wampler said in the lawsuit that he keeps his field "clean of dangerous objects, knowing the potential danger items of that nature would be to the horses," adding that horses have been kept in the pasture since 2008 without any injuries.
The horse was 9 years old at the time it was injured, making it "certainly reasonable to believe that this mare would have produced another four or five foals during her lifetime," the lawsuit said.
The legal action reiterated that one of the foals has a current value of at least $150,000 and the mare was pregnant and expected to deliver another foal about three months after her death, which was "the direct and proximate result of the actions of the defendants or their agents."
After having seen a picture of the horse's hoof, the veterinarian "related that Brock Wampler had no choice but to put the animal down," the lawsuit said.
No hearing date has been set in connection with the lawsuit.
Amanda Shell Jennings, of the Knoxville-based public relations firm Moxley Carmichael representing US Nitrogen, said Monday she had to confer with company officials before commenting.
IDB attorney Jerry Laughlin did not immediately respond to questions about the lawsuit emailed to his office.
Earlier this month, 3rd Judicial District Chancellor Douglas T. Jenkins signed off on an agreement stipulating that representatives of US Nitrogen and the IDB may not trespass on land owned by any of the plaintiffs.
Jenkins' action was in response to motions in another lawsuit involving the controversial pipeline project.
A motion by the 21 plaintiffs in that case asked Jenkins to issue a temporary restraining order on the trespassing matter. Brock Wampler is one of the plaintiffs.
Lawyers representing US Nitrogen, the IDB and the lawsuit plaintiffs reached an agreed order before a scheduled Oct. 7 hearing took place.
The order specifies that pipeline contractors "will not trespass or otherwise enter upon, utilize, or damage plaintiffs' land in the furtherance of the ongoing pipeline construction project."
The private land owned by plaintiffs is located adjacent to rights of way on state Highway 340, also known as Fish Hatchery Road, and rights of way on state Highway 348. Both roads are in western Greene County.
RESPONSE OF DEFENDANTS
Jennings said Friday in an email that the IDB, US Nitrogen and its contractors "never have planned to construct the pipeline on private property not owned by IDB or US Nitrogen. Existing law already provides protections for private property."
She said that during the informal session on Oct. 7 with Jenkins at Hawkins County Chancery Court, lawyers for both US Nitrogen and the plaintiffs' group "agreed jointly to draft an agreed order that confirms US Nitrogen's intention to construct the pipeline only in the state rights of way."
Laughlin said Friday that US Nitrogen has given its assurance "they have obtained the official Tennessee Department of Transportation right of way log that shows the width of the right of way below these two highways."
US Nitrogen has a registered land surveyor at the construction site on a daily basis to ensure all work is done within right of way boundaries, Laughlin said.
"I'm not personally aware of any incidence where (trespassing) has officially occurred," he said.
"That's why US Nitrogen has a land surveyor out there, to make sure it doesn't occur," Laughlin said.
Pipeline construction began earlier this month and is projected by US Nitrogen to be completed during the first quarter of 2015.