GREENEVILLE—Members of the Save the Nolichucky organization have filed a lawsuit against US Nitrogen and the Industrial Development Board of Greeneville and Greene County, asking a jury to halt construction of US Nitrogen’s double pipeline.
The suit, filed Friday in Greene County Chancery Court, claims US Nitrogen devised a “bait and switch” plan to get regulatory approval for the pipeline plan while company officials acted as if they would obtain water from the Old Knoxville Highway Utility District.
US Nitrogen’s “secret plans” included buying property for the double pipeline project before announcing any deal to buy water from Old Knox was off, the complaint says.
Old Knox filed its own suit against US Nitrogen and the IDB in August, claiming the pipeline project and the IDB’s plans for other industries to use the pipeline infringes on its rights as a utility district to provide water to all customers within its boundaries.
The Save the Nolichucky lawsuit also claims the IDB violated the Tennessee Open Meetings Act at a July 18, 2014, public meeting because audience members couldn’t hear board members discuss and ultimately vote to resubmit an application to the Tennessee Department of Transportation for right-of-way permits for the pipeline. If the meeting is deemed a violation, the board’s deception to apply for the permits would be nullified.
No microphones were used at the meeting, held at the Greeneville Light & Power building.
TDOT eventually granted the permits. It had denied an application the month before.
Friday’s lawsuit, filed by Knoxville attorney D. Scott Hurley, also claims the IDB has no legal authority to operate the pipeline system, citing a passage in state law that says entities like the IDB were not intended to authorize “any such manufacturing, industrial, governmental educational, commercial or agricultural enterprise, hotel, motel or apartment building or pollution control facility.”
The suit also alleges that the pipeline would be a “private nuisance” to the plaintiffs due to the damage US Nitrogen’s plans would cause to the river and the fact that the pipeline would reduce the plaintiffs’ property values.
The suit names 21 plaintiffs, include Donahue Bible, a vocal critic of US Nitrogen who lives on Fish Hatchery Road, and Eddie Overholt.
Overholt, owner of the popular CJ Papadops restaurant in Bybee, was removed by Greeneville police at the July 18 meeting after asking IDB board members to speak up after then-County Mayor and IDB Chairman Alan Broyles warned against outbursts from the audience.
The large crowd at the audience had interrupted the meeting several times by that point.
Overholt was removed and charged with disrupting a meeting and resisting arrest. Both charges were later dropped.
Friday’s lawsuit also claims the pipelines interfere with the plaintiffs’ right to use the water from the Nolichucky River.
The plaintiffs say the pipeline and intake and outfall structures in the Nolichucky would interfere with their right to fish, boat and swim in the river; use wells close to the river for drinking water; and use the river for agriculture irrigation.
Under the agreement reached by the IDB and US Nitrogen, the 12-mile double pipeline would belong to the IDB but be leased by US Nitrogen, which plans to produce liquid ammonium nitrate. The company would cover the costs of construction and maintenance of the pipelines.
One pipeline would transport as much as 1.9 million gallons per day from the Nolichucky River to US Nitrogen’s plant on Pottertown Road in Midway. After the water is cycled through the company’s cooling system, about 500,000 gallons per day would be piped back to the river via the second pipeline.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation has granted the necessary permits for the double pipeline system, but US Nitrogen still needs approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Tennessee Valley Authority before construction of the pipelines and intake and outfall structures in the river can begin.
Critics have claimed taking water from and discharging water into the river will hurt the environment. TDEC and US Nitrogen officials have maintained the plan is safe for the river’s ecosystem and downstream inhabitants.
US Nitrogen hopes to have the plant operational by the end of March 2015.
Attempts to contract US Nitrogen officials for comment on the lawsuit were unsuccessful.