WHITE PINE-With a deadline to submit letters to a state environmental review agency fast approaching, opponents of a one million-plus gallons per day intake and wastewater discharge plan for the Nolichucky River by a $250-$300 million chemical plant under construction in Midway, held a peaceful rally/meeting on Saturday evening, May 24, in White Pine, to share concerns about projected pollution of the river and to enlist support from more people to fight the plan.
'Save the Nolichucky' is opponents' battle cry
"Save the Nolichucky" has been the battle cry of opponents to U.S. Nitrogen's plan to build a 10-mile long intake/outtake pipeline to the Nolichucky River, and a pump station next to the Conway Bridge.
Opponents say they fear harmful pollution from the daily discharge of over one million gallons of water collected from the river on a daily basis, then discharged as wastewater into the Nolichucky River, called one of the 10 cleanest rivers in the U.S., and one of the three cleanest ones in Tennessee, according to rally organizers.
Cocke County is said to have over 50 miles of land bordering the river as it meanders its way south to Douglas Lake, and beyond.
Opponents said they want U.S. Nitrogen to stick to its original plan to pay for water from Greene County's Old Knoxville Utility District, and then release the used water through an established wastewater facility before it touches the Nolichucky River.
'No dumping' and 'No free water'
A sign posted in White Pine at the corner of Main and State streets by opponents to the project summed it up best. It said, "Save the Nolichucky. No dumping. No free water."
About 65 people attended Saturday evening's rally, held at the Kidz Kountry Splash Pad pavilion in White Pine.
Opponents of the U.S. Nitrogen water plan have until May 31 to submit letters to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), to urge state officials to not give the company two permits it needs for its pipeline and a pump station on the Nolichucky River where it plans to capture and release water.
The U.S. Nitrogen plant is reportedly being established to manufacture liquid ammonium nitrate, known as ANSOL, or ANS.
The Greeneville Sun reported that U.S. Nitrogen and parent company Austin Powder officials have consistently stated that the Midway operation, which was approved 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.
U.S. Nitrogen has received drafting permits
Susan Ashmore, moderator for three rallies held so far, in Greene, Cocke, and Jefferson counties, admitted opponents are facing an uphill battle to stop U.S. Nitrogen's plan for the Nolichucky River. She said TDEC had already granted U.S. Nitrogen two drafting permits, and that by doing so, had all but guaranteed the company's request for two permits would be approved.
Ashmore said that if TDEC extends the comments period another 30 days, which opponents hope will happen, a fourth rally will be held, likely in Greene County.
On Saturday, organizers of the rally looked for more people to sign a petition to ask Maybelle Sparks at TDEC to not grant the permits, and a form letter to send to TDEC that has a section for personal comments.
Opponents were asked to keep their letters to TDEC personal, describing, for example, how they fear losing recreational activities on the river, such as fishing and swimming, due to unsafe water, possible contamination of nearby residents' wells, and water for livestock and farms. Other concerns are of damage to Indian burial grounds, air pollution from the plant, and the extinction of endangered species in the area, including Oyster mussels.
Over 3,000 people have already signed a petition to stop the water withdrawal/discharge proposal by U.S. Nitrogen.
Public Facebook page for opponents of plant's water/wastewater plan
Opponents have a public Facebook page that can be accessed even by people not registered with Facebook. Its address is simply savethenolichucky.
Opponents were also urged to contact state and federal politicians who might exert pressure to have the permits denied, including 1st Congressional District's Phil Roe, and Tennessee's two senators in Washington, D.C., Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker.
Brad Davidson, assistant public defender and recently elected Cocke County General Sessions Court judge, said he had reviewed multiple
pages of documents generated by U.S. Nitrogen and others. He said U.S. Nitrogen states wildly varying amounts of water it intends to take from the Nolichucky, with some figures varying as much as 68 percent. Davidson said, for example, that one public hearing document cites 1.944 million gallons of water will be taken from the river, while other figures say it will be 1.45 million or 1.21 million gallons of water siphoned from the Nolichucky River on a daily basis.
State representative: 'Underhanded' process from the 'get-go'
State Representative Jeremy Faison said, as a conservative politician, his work to stop U.S. Nitrogen's water and wastewater plans means he is working alongside liberal opponents, such as TV actress Park Overall. He said, "This transcends politics. It has to do with saving the Nolichucky."
Faison also stated that, despite good intentions, environmental accidents can occur, such as in December 2008, when a TVA dike in Kingston, Tennessee, ruptured and 1.1 billion gallons of coal fly ash sludge was spilled, the largest coal-related slurry spill in U.S. history. He said, "I don't want the chance the wrong lever (inside the plant) is pushed by accident, and millions of gallons of polluted water is discharged into the Nolichucky River."
Faison also said of U.S. Nitrogen and parent corporation, Austin Powder, "There is no integrity to this company." After the meeting, he said it was the "underhanded" process that the company has followed that "from the get-go" has lacked "integrity".
Overall said the Conway Bridge, which is on the National Historic Registry, could suffer as a result of a pump station letting out wastewater close to its base.
Lawsuit filed against Greene County officials
Crystal Ottinger, who recently won the county mayor's race in the Republican Primary, said, "I've pledged my support to this cause. I'm not against factories and jobs, but this won't benefit our rivers."
Ottinger said she grew up on the Pigeon River, and that, unfortunately for large corporations, such as Austin Powder, "It's cheaper to pay fines to the E.P.A. (Environmental Protection Agency), then to stop polluting."
Junior Belcher talked of his lawsuit against the Greene County Partnership's head, Tom Ferguson, Greene County Mayor Alan Broyles, and Greene County commissioners for allegedly violating the "Sunshine Law" by meeting secretly to agree to rezone land where the plant is being constructed, rather than in public meetings.
Belcher said that the trial is Oct. 22-24, and asked opponents of the river plan to sit behind the plaintiffs as a public show of support.
He also said he believed U.S. Nitrogen's change in plans of accessing and discharging water in the Nolichucky River gives the company more freedom to do as they please. He said, "That way they don't have to tell any other company how much water they discharge."
Ashmore calls Austin Powder's track record a 'wake of destruction'
Ashmore and others downstream of the proposed pump station say TDEC violated its own rules by not holding public hearings on the U.S. Nitrogen permit s requests in counties affected by the proposed discharge: in Cocke, Hamblen, Jefferson, and Sevier Counties. TDEC held two public hearings in Greene County only, in April.
Ashmore, the evening's moderator, asked those present to Google "Austin Powder".
Explained Ashmore, "They've left a wake of destruction in other states. There are federal lawsuits against their operations in Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. They've destroyed air and water quality wherever they've gone."
Ashmore said she would return to White Pine on Wednesday, May 28, at 7 p.m., at Sonic Drive-In, on Main Street, to pick up letters from concerned citizens to TDEC. She said that way, she can "overnight" the letters the next day so that they arrive Friday, one day before the extended comments period ends.