US Nitrogen

Above, work is proceeding steadily on various components of the US Nitrogen plant on Pottertown Road in Midway. If the company receives amended air and water-use permits it has applied for, the plant could be operating by the end of 2014, US Nitrogen officials have said.

Opponents of a new chemical plant's plans to discharge wastewater into the Nolichucky River said they may have lost "the battle," but will continue to fight "the war."

On Tuesday, June 3, three days after the end of an extended public comments period that generated a flood of complaints about the plant's water plans submitted to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, TDEC issued two permits to the $250 million plant under construction, US Nitrogen.

Opponents to US Nitrogen's plan to withdraw roughly one million gallons of water a day from the river, then discharge it back into the river, seemed to share Greene County resident Donahue Bible's comments that, "My reaction is one of disappointment and disgust, but certainly not surprise."

Bible went on to say, "Political power, greed, and corruption go 'hand in glove' and follow each other as surely as night follows day ...

"I truly believe that US Nitrogen was assured from the beginning that, 'You will be able to use the Nolichucky River (to discharge water).' All the other publicity about using public utilities was purely a smoke screen."

US Nitrogen and its parent company, Austin Powder, is reportedly being established to manufacture liquid ammonium nitrate (known as ANSOL, or ANS).

US Nitrogen and Austin Powder officials have consistently stated that the Midway operation, which was given a basic go-ahead by the Greene County Commission in February 2011, will be safe and environmentally sound, and will, in fact, exceed required legal and regulatory safety standards.

The Newport Plain Talk on Friday, June 6, tried to reach two US Nitrogen officials who work for the company, including Justin Freeark, the plant's manager, to request their reactions to the TDEC permits issued to the company.

The environmental manager for US Nitrogen, Hollie Binkley, responded in a press release, "US Nitrogen is pleased that the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) has approved its permit applications for air and water permits. We believed from the outset that US Nitrogen’s plans for operating an environmentally sensitive facility would not only meet, but exceed, the standards set by state and federal agencies.

"TDEC gave careful, thoughtful, and rigorous attention to these applications. We appreciate the many citizens who supported us through this process.

"We plan to live up to the State’s expectations as we move forward to complete construction of a plant that will stand as the largest industrial investment in the history of Greene County."

State Rep. Jeremy Faison on Friday, June 6, expressed disappointment with TDEC's decisions to issue the permits.

He said, "I have concerns, and I've asked the directors of US Nitrogen to meet with those of us in Cocke County who are concerned" about the discharge of untreated water back into the Nolichucky River.

Faison said one of his "major concerns" is about a company that will be working in the Greene County chemical plant, Yara International.

In January 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported that Yara International, which is the country of Norway's part state-owned chemical company, was fined the U.S. dollar equivalent of about $48 million (295 million Norwegian kroner) after it allegedly admitted to paying bribes in Libya, India, and Russia several years ago.

Yara International was allegedly charged with three counts of corruption. Norwegian police, who issued the fine, stated that the case was particularly serious because it included offers of $12 million in bribes by Yara International to foreign officials, between 2004-2009.

The pump station and twin 10-mile long pipelines that will withdraw and later discharge the untreated water back into the Nolichucky River, are upstream from the over 50 miles of Cocke County land that borders the river.

Farmers in Cocke County and in other counties downstream of the proposed pump station, have voiced concerns about possible pollution in the water that would be harmful to residents who rely on well water near the river, as well as water for cattle.

Alex Martin, a University of Tennessee student whose family owns a vineyard and winery on the Nolichucky River of over one mile long, said of the TDEC permits, "It's a heartbreaker because I felt we had a really good chance at stopping it (the issuance of the permits). Even so, we expected it (TDEC's decision in US Nitrogen's favor)." He added, however, "They may have won the battle, but not the war."

Martin stated, "At least we had two politicians who stood up for us," Rep. Faison and Cocke County GOP primary winner in the mayor's race, Crystal Ottinger.

Martin also said, "I think there are too many backs being scratched."

TDEC held two public meetings in Greene County about the water permits, but no such meetings in counties downstream from the proposed pump station in the river.

Susan Ashmore, moderator of three informational rallies held in Greene, Cocke, and Jefferson Counties in recent weeks, and one of the key organizers of the "Save the Nolichucky" effort, said in an email reply to the Plain Talk sent on Friday, "We submitted (Federal Expressed overnight) last Wednesday and Thursday (May 28 and May 29) to Maybelle Sparks (at TDEC) a tremendous amount of expert analysis for her review.

"Our legal experts also submitted their requests questioning, most importantly, the line in the US Nitrogen permit request that her office 'fast-track' these applications. We also submitted a breakdown of the US Nitrogen permit, and a legal request, once again, for TDEC's failure to grant a public hearing in Cocke, Hamblen, Jefferson, or Sevier counties.

Ashmore said she believes, ". . . .there was simply no way she (Sparks) and her staff could have read, much less passed along for independent review, the sheer amount of paperwork we submitted, between the time she signed for it (on Thursday and Friday, May 29 and May 30), and the time she granted the permits (on June 3). Needless to say, something's fishy."

Ashmore also said, "We marvel at the fact US Nitrogen has purchased thousands of dollars in full page, full color ads (including one in The Plain Talk's June 5 edition), designed by their public relations team this week. This current effort, expounding the company's virtues, once again attempts to refocus everyone's attention away from the real issue - which is, simply, 'Save the Nolichucky'."

She said, "Our goal is simple . . . . US Nitrogen, why won't you simply buy your water and waste treatment like every other legitimate business? Why should you be allowed this privilege, and no one else? If TDEC is going to permit the use of a free water source and a free dumping ground, why not allow every business this privilege?"

Ashmore finished her email by saying, "We WILL continue our efforts" to stop US Nitrogen from discharging untreated wastewater into the Nolichucky River."

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