The Tennessee Department of Transportation on Monday, June 9, turned down an application from US Nitrogen for the proposed installation and maintenance of 10-mile long water and wastewater pipelines across public rights-of-way to connect the massive $250-million plant, now under construction in Greene County, to the Nolichucky River.
Sarah McBride, assistant general counsel for TDOT, wrote in a letter to Justin Freeark, plant manager of the chemical company, that, “Upon examination of the application documents, it appears that the proposed pipelines would be for the private use of US Nitrogen, LLC only and would not provide any public services to the general community.”
McBridge continues in her letter, “Given the above, TDOT must respectfully deny your permit application for the proposed private pipelines on the rights-of-way of State Routes 340 and 348 in Greene County, Tennessee.”
A public relations spokesman for US Nitrogen, Mike Pigott, released the following statement in response to TDOT’s actions:
“We are disappointed by the decision. We believe our project benefits the community in many ways, including jobs, investment, and local spending on materials. We are reviewing our options now.”
Opponents to the chemical plant’s desire to withdraw over one million gallons of water from the Nolichucky River per day, and to discharge close to the same amount of wastewater back into the river, were understandably ecstatic about TDOT’s refusal to issue the pipelines permits to US Nitrogen.
Opponents of the pipelines were unable to persuade the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) to deny water and air permits for US Nitrogen, which were approved earlier this month, though they did get a 30-day extension for public comments sent to TDEC.
The Nolichucky River borders Cocke County for over 50 miles, downstream from the proposed site where the pipelines would meet the river, for withdrawing and discharging.
McBridge’s letter states the acknowledgement of receiving from US Nitrogen’s Freeark May 2, 2014 correspondence and an application packet concerning “the proposed installation and maintenance of water and effluent pipelines on the rights-of-way of State Routes 340 and 348 in Greene County, Tennessee.”
Susan Ashmore, a key organizer of the “Save the Nolichucky” protests who want US Nitrogen to stick to its original plan of sending its wastewater through a treatment plant, said ecstatically, “We won! Mission accomplished! Don’t tread on me ...”
Ashmore said they had heard earlier this week that TDOT was turning down US Nitrogen’s requests for the proposed pipelines, but had not received any written confirmation. She first learned of the TDOT letter’s contents when the Plain Talk contacted her on Friday.
“This is fabulous,” Ashmore said. She added, “We have been on pins and needles all week. We are so afraid of the political clout from (Governor) Bill Haslam to US Nitrogen ... That’s what we’ve been facing.”
Ashmore credited Roger and Lynn Coen, who she said live on Briar Thicket Road, for requesting that TDOT not grant US Nitrogen access to public rights-of-way to place the pipelines.
She also said, “Donahue Bible has been saying along that the right-of-way was not legal since we met him on April 17. That’s where the idea (to request the pipelines permits be denied) germinated.”
Ashmore also said, “Thank God for TDOT and all the people who have stood with us shoulder-to-shoulder. We were praying for a stop to the political clout US Nitrogen holds over all of us.”
Another active opponent, General Sessions Court Judge-elect Brad Davidson, was reached by phone on Friday in North Carolina, where he said, “I’m very pleased. Their (US Nitrogen’s) study seemed so cursory. Overall, I don’t think it’s good to put contaminated water in the Nolichucky (River). It’s a slippery slope” to pursue.
In its June 9 letter, McBridge wrote that TDOT’s rules and regulations “govern publicly and privately-owned utilities which provide essential services to the general public and which are located upon State of Tennessee rights-of-way .... Moreover, a utility has been defined by statute as a privately, publicly, or cooperatively owned facility used to transmit materials to the public,” which they said US Nitrogen’s twin pipelines would not do.