US Nitrogen has cleared the last regulatory hurdle in its plan to connect its Midway plant to the Nolichucky River.
The Tennessee Valley Authority and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Friday issued the last permit needed for the company and the Industrial Development Board of Greeneville and Greene County to begin construction of a 12-mile double pipeline connecting the river and the US Nitrogen facility on Pottertown Road.
One of the IDB-owned and US Nitrogen-leased pipelines will transport water from the Nolichucky River, following the rights of way of state highways 340 and 348.
The water from the river will flow into a filtration facility on the US Nitrogen property, where it will be filtered before being used as cooling water for the plant's manufacturing operations.
US Nitrogen, which will produce liquid ammonium nitrate at its plant, has been permitted to withdraw as much as 1.9 million gallons per day from the river, but company officials have said the daily average will be 1.45 million gallons.
The second pipeline will transport about 570,000 gallons per day back to the river.
The Tennessee Department of Conservation has granted US Nitrogen the permits to use the river as its water source and to discharge water back into the river, and the Tennessee Department of Transportation has granted permits so the IDB's double pipeline can use state rights of way.
"US Nitrogen is committed to environmental stewardship," US Nitrogen Plant Manager Justin Freeark said in a statement released Monday by the company.
His statement continued:
"The rigorous permitting process through the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the Tennessee Department of Transportation, TVA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, among other agencies, demonstrates that we have engineered a solution that will allow our facility to operate at its highest function while having negligible effect on the river or the environment."
The same news release also quoted Greene County Partnership President and CEO Tom Ferguson, who has worked closely with the US Nitrogen project since the company expressed a desire several years ago to locate a plant in Greene County.
"From the increased corporate tax base and millions of dollars in payroll to Greene County residents, we ultimately will see the impact of US Nitrogen and its co-locating facilities in better schools, better roads and a reduced tax burden on citizens," Ferguson said.
Plans call for two other companies to locate facilities on the US Nitrogen property.
One is a facility owned by the Norwegian company Yara that would produce liquid calcium nitrate.
Another facility would capture carbon dioxide emitted from US Nitrogen's operations, convert the gas to liquid in a process known as liquefaction, and sell the liquid carbon dioxide to other companies.
US Nitrogen officials hope to begin construction of the pipelines in the next few weeks, according to the news release. The company will cover the $1.56 million cost to build the pipelines, along with the cost of maintaining them.
'SPLIT FLOW' PLAN
According to US Nitrogen spokeswoman Amanda Shell Jennings, US Nitrogen officials have changed their plans relating to the discharge of cooling water, used to cool off the very high levels of heat generated in the manufacturing process.
Previously, US Nitrogen had planned to discharge water used in the plant's cooling processes into the Nolichucky River. But Jennings said Monday that US Nitrogen officials now favor using what has been referred to as a "split flow" option for discharging the plant's cooling water.
Under the split flow plan, US Nitrogen will still pump about 570,000 gallons of water per day back into the Nolichucky River. But that water will have only been used in a filtration site used to filter river water that will eventually become cooling water, officials said.
Of the 1.45 million gallons per day US Nitrogen withdraws from the river, about 900,000 gallons will be filtered at the filtration site, then will go on to become cooling water.
From there US Nitrogen will:
* treat the cooling water after it cycles through the company's cooling system 20 times;
* pipe an estimated 43,000 gallons of treated cooling water per day from the plant into the Town of Mosheim's Lick Creek wastewater treatment plant, bypassing the sewage treatment area;
* merge the treated cooling water with Mosheim's treated wastewater,
* and discharge the water into Lick Creek along with the Mosheim wastewater treatment plant's treated wastewater. Lick Creek eventually empties into the Nolichucky River.
The "split flow" option would technically allow US Nitrogen to discharge its effluent water into Lick Creek by piggybacking onto Mosheim's discharge. TDEC already considers Lick Creek an impaired stream due to high levels of nitrogen.
The permits that TDEC granted US Nitrogen in June also include a revised permit for the Town of Mosheim's wastewater treatment plant to take on US Nitrogen's treated effluent water.
US Nitrogen is now seeking approval from the Town of Mosheim to execute this plan, Jennings said.
She wouldn't specify when US Nitrogen decided to pursue the split flow plan, as opposed to discharging cooling water back into the Nolichucky. The change in discharge plans has been an "evolving process," she said.
LEGAL BATTLES CONTINUE
Even though US Nitrogen and the IDB now have all the regulatory permits they need to move forward with their plans, at least four legal battles are still playing out.
* Represented by Knoxville attorney Herb Moncier, a group of Greene County citizens is challenging the legality of the Greene County Commission and the Greene County Planning Commission's 2011 votes that cleared the way for US Nitrogen to come to Greene County.
* The Old Knoxville Highway Utility District has filed a suit against the IDB and US Nitrogen claiming their plan to supply US Nitrogen's manufacturing water on their own and make the double pipeline available to other companies -- without using Old Knox -- violates the utility district's rights.
* Save the Nolichucky, a group of citizens who own land downstream of US Nitrogen's planned intake and outflow structures on the Nolichucky, have sued the company and the IDB, claiming the company has lied about its water plans, that the IDB action to apply for TDOT permits was illegal, and that the plans ultimately will harm landowners downstream.
* A group of Greene, Cocke and Jefferson county residents have asked the Davidson County Chancery Court to make TDOT officials appear and defend their decision to grant the IDB permits for the double pipeline to use state rights of way.
REACTION AGAINST DECISION
Donahue Bible, a resident of Fish Hatchery Road and a plaintiff in the Save the Nolichucky lawsuit, said the decision by TVA and the Army Corps of Engineers wasn't a surprise.
"We've been expecting this to go into the courts," he said in a phone interview Monday night. "As far as I'm concerned the time for negotiations is over.
"We're just all disappointed in what Greene County has done," he said. "The US Nitrogen people couldn't have done any of this without the permission of the Greene County Commission, the [former] Greene County mayor [Alan Broyles], the IDB and the Greene County Planning Commission."
Actress and environmental activist Park Overall said Monday night she questions TVA and the Army Corps' actions. She has opposed US Nitrogen from the plant's inception, claiming it will do long-term damage to the environment.
"Over the years TVA has decided it's more than what it is," she said. "The Army Corps has sort of lost track of what its job is.
"TVA and Army Corps think they can sign this off and nobody in Appalachia will fight it," she said.
US Nitrogen and TDEC officials have maintained the plant will not damage the ecosystem nearby or down river.