Opponents of the proposed double-pipeline from the US Nitrogen plant site in Midway to the Nolichucky River were very vocal in their opposition to the pipeline during Friday’s meeting of the Greene County Industrial Development Board.
Those attending the meeting included residents of both Greene and Cocke counties, and perhaps other counties where concern has developed in recent weeks about the effect of the proposed pipeline on the Nolichucky River and properties along it.
The river runs through Greene, Cocke, Hamblen and Jefferson counties.
For many of the opponents in the audience, feelings were clearly very strong and intense, with the eventual result that two members of the audience, both from Cocke County, were removed from the building by Greeneville police officers acting as security officers for the meeting.
The removal actions were taken at the request of Greene County Mayor Alan Broyles, who is also chairman of the Industrial Development Board.
One of the two individuals was eventually charged by Greeneville police with disrupting a meeting, according to Assistant Chief of Police Craig Fillers. The other person was not charged, Fillers said.
The brief meeting of the board was held beginning at 8:30 a.m. in the G. Thomas Love Board Room of the Greeneville Light & Power System.
The meeting began with quiet comments of complaint from the audience, and built up to moments of shouted objections, “boo’s” or applause.
Several objections from the audience were triggered by the inability of the standing-room-only crowd attending the meeting to hear the board members as they spoke quietly among themselves about the proposed new pipeline application to the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT).
No microphones were used at the meeting.
Eddie Bruce Overholt, owner of the popular CJ Papadops restaurant at Bybee, in Cocke County, and a few other members of the audience moved up to the front of the audience seating area and stood directly against the barrier rope separating the board from the audience.
Overholt, a well known figure in Cocke County and in western Greene County, has been an outspoken opponent of the pipeline project.
Those who moved to the front had been in the back of the room and relocated to the front because they could not hear the board members’ statements.
In response to their move, Police Chief Terry Cannon moved to stand between those audience members and the board.
After chiding the audience several times for making noise or comments during the board’s discussion, Mayor Broyles, a lifelong resident of western Greene County himself, cautioned that he would request the removal of any members of the audience who spoke out after his warning.
“Please do not applaud, the board is here to ...” he said before being interrupted by laughter from the audience.
“If we have any more outbursts from the audience, you will be removed from the building!” Broyles responded.
“Would you all speak up until the whole audience can hear what you say?” Overholt then asked, addressing Broyles and the board.
“Take him out of the building,” Broyles replied, speaking to the Greeneville police officers present.
“It’s a public hearing!” Overholt objected.
“[Mayor Broyles] is running the show,” Chief Cannon replied.
Overholt continued speaking as he was escorted out of the room, asking if he was under arrest and saying that he was being thrown out of a public hearing.
He was eventually charged with disrupting a meeting, according to Assistant Police Chief Fillers.
Another Cocke Countian, Roger Coen, who had also been standing near the barrier at the front of the seating area, was removed from the building just prior to the adjournment of the meeting when he spoke out to request to ask questions of the board.
When his request was declined by Mayor Broyles, he continued to insist that he had been told by Greene County Partnership President/CEO Tom Ferguson that those attending the meeting would be able to ask questions.
“When I said for him to come over and get his answers, I meant the company people will be there and [could] explain the things that he wanted to know about,” Ferguson explained in a follow-up interview with The Greeneville Sun on Friday afternoon.
“Also, to be honest with you, I thought there might be a comment session.”
Broyles, however, said in a separate interview Friday afternoon that no one had contacted him in advance to ask to speak to the board at the meeting.
He also emphasized that, while the session was a public meeting, it was not a public hearing.
“We want to keep things as transparent as possible — and if it had been a public hearing, certainly the public would have the opportunity to speak,” Broyles said.
At the close of the meeting, opponents burst into loud booing directed at the board members.
The unidentified woman who began the booing shouted sarcastically to the board, “Thank you guys so much.”