US Nitrogen presently has two permit applications before Tennessee Division of Water Resources, Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation, which, if approved, will allow the company to withdraw millions of gallons of water daily through an eight-mile-long, 12-inch water line, from the Nolichucky River.
The second permit will allow the water to be returned through an additional eight-inch, eight-mile-long wastewater line to the same location to empty into the river with an acknowledged daily amount of waste nitrogen … and God knows what else.
The company has now reneged on earlier statements made when they were trying to get the rezoning done for the proposed location near Midway. At that time both US Nitrogen and Greene County officials announced that the cooling water needs would be met by the Old Knoxville Highway Utility District through an agreement to purchase water from the City of Greeneville Water Department.
It was stated that the wastewater needs would be met by the Town of Mosheim Sewer plant and would be eventually discharged after clean-up, into Lick Creek… the present outlet for the Town of Mosheim Sewer plant.
From the beginning, I have closely followed the proposal by Austin Powder Company, to locate the US Nitrogen plant in Greene County. As the plans unfolded (at least those that were made public), I became more concerned.
When, in February 2011, Greene County Commissioners voted unanimously to rezone the 400 acres for the location on Pottertown Road, with Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and state economic officials waiting across the street in the General Morgan Inn in Greeneville to hear the outcome of the vote, I felt this was highly unusual. Now I am more convinced than ever that it was in fact highly unusual!
As more time has passed, I feel it has become apparent that the Greene County Partnership and its directors, under the guidance of President Tom Ferguson, had “their ducks all lined up in a row” for the vote…all the while citing their right to secrecy … by not being subject to the restraints of Tennessee’s Open Meeting Law.
I can still hardly believe that so many Greene County officials were taken in by this ploy...on the one and only vote taken for rezoning the property for such a controversial industry, without being announced in advance.
I can imagine that the two County Commissioners who were absent for that vote have since thanked their lucky stars, since Greene County, Greene County Commissioners and the Greene County Partnership are all being sued, with the trial to be held in October 2014, in Chancery Court.
The county attorney for Greene County, Roger Woolsey has up until now defended the position of the Greene County Partnership and its President Tom Ferguson, as not being subject to Tennessee’s Open Meeting Law, as he contends “they are not a governmental entity.”
The attorney for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit recently announced that in his discovery process, he will be by subpoena requesting the cell phone numbers and records of conversations of Greene County Commissioners and other county officials, as well as those of certain members of the Greene County Partnership, prior to the US Nitrogen rezoning vote in February 2011.
The Partnership has now voted to retain their own attorney from the Baker Donelson group in Johnson City.
Although I never openly opposed the location of the plant here, I had strong reservations about such an industry being located so close to West Greene High School and the populations of Midway and Mosheim.
When the hearing concerning the granting of an air quality permit for the plant was held at West Greene High School in October 2011, a large number of persons opposed the location of the plant in Greene County. I did not attend that meeting, nor did I write a letter in protest. I now look upon that as a mistake on my part.
Since that time there has been one action after another by US Nitrogen officials asking for more and more and offering less and less in return.
After hiding behind their claims to purchase All their water needs from the Greeneville Water Department through a distribution arrangement with Old Knoxville Highway Utility District, and to dispose of All wastewater through the Mosheim Sewer System and eventually into Lick Creek … the truth now emerges!
The recent applications to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to take millions of gallons of water daily from the Nolichucky River west of Warrensburg, by way of a pipeline extending for well over eight miles, and then returning the wastewater by a separate pipeline … again to the Nolichucky River, is, in my view, an affront to the intelligence of the citizens of Greene County.
Are we to believe that a company such as Austin Powder Company, a manufacturer of explosives for over 175 years, did not know in the beginning if their cooling water intake and their waste water needs could be met by the Town of Mosheim and the Old Knoxville Highway Utility District?
If there were any doubts about the water needs being inadequate before the rezoning was requested, why were they not made known before the rezoning vote?
Why was the option taken by US Nitrogen for the land for the pumping station on the Nolichucky River almost six months (September 2013) before the Greene County public was made aware of this impending request for water permits for the Nolichucky?
Now this company wants to locate a large pumping station on the banks of the Nolichucky River beside the Conway Bridge (on the Register of Historic Places) where certainly the scouring of the river bed beneath the bridge piers will almost certainly result in damage and eventual destruction of the historic old bridge. The concrete-arch Conway Bridge near Warrensburg replaced a pioneer-era ferry in 1924.
In addition to the cooling-water-intake line of 12 inches and the wastewater return line of 8 inches, the company has asked for permission to construct a 30 inch diameter drainage line into the river at the same location … and to release nitrogen on a daily basis into the river.
All of this is to be located by excavation of the banks of the Nolichucky River on an ancient Woodland Indian village and burial site that covers many acres at this location. This Indian village and burial site was first known to local farmers after the great flood of the Nolichucky River that occurred in 1901.
At that time several inches of topsoil was washed away by the flood, leaving hundreds of Indian artifacts exposed on the surface. The family who owned the land until recent years collected many of these artifacts and kept them for decades.
Several of these pieces including a rare large duck effigy pipe carved from steatite were sold at the auction sale after the last family member died, about 20 years ago. The auctioneer is still located in Greene County.
Now the high-frequency sound of two large water pumps (with a third pump in reserve) running 24 hours a day is to be the fate of this beautiful serene valley if these applications are granted.
To learn what approval of these applications will mean, go to this State of Tennessee website at
A Public Hearing on these permits will be held by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Division of Water Resources, at West Greene High School Gymnasium on April 17, 2014, beginning at 5 p.m.
Fish Hatchery Road
US Nitrogen, LLC and the Greene County Partnership were given the opportunity to respond to factual-type statements and questions concerning them that were raised in this Letter to the Editor.
Greene County Partnership President and CEO Tom Ferguson responded earlier this week that “Due to pending litigation in relation to this project, our attorneys have advised us that it would not be appropriate to respond at this time.” (The litigation Mr. Ferguson refers to is a civil lawsuit in Greene County Chancery Court.)
The following response was provided by Justin Freeark, US Nitrogen Plant Manager:
“Thank you for your kind invitation offering US Nitrogen LLC the opportunity to respond to Mr. Donahue Bible’s Letter to the Editor ...
“US Nitrogen LLC is a subsidiary of Austin Powder Company, a company that has operated for over 175 years. US Nitrogen is constructing a facility that will produce nitric acid, ammonia, and ammonium nitrate — all raw materials that will be supplied to our parent company for use in the manufacture of explosives at Austin Powder plants. Once constructed, the Midway facility will become a key component of Austin Powder’s supply chain.
“The US Nitrogen facility currently under construction in Midway will require a total estimated capital cost of over $200 million. We anticipate that we will employ approximately 100 persons and inject more than $5 million a year in direct payroll into the local economy.
“Construction of the plant itself to date has required the employment of about 200 construction workers, 150 of which are from the local area. By this summer, we anticipate that we will employ around 325 construction workers at our plant.
“We have already hired 65 employees to fill permanent positions, and they are either already working full-time or are participating in full-time operator training classes.
“Our production process requires water, the bulk of which is used for cooling. In the early stages of planning our facility, we had planned to obtain our water from one local utility and discharge our water to the Town of Mosheim’s treatment facility across the street from us.
“However, as plans for our facility became firm and our water needs more definite, the utilities and US Nitrogen realized that our early plans for water were not compatible with the existing infrastructure.
“The continuous demand for the water we need for our processes would have put a strain on the ability of the local water infrastructure to provide all of the water that US Nitrogen needed while continuing to provide for the water needs of its individual customers and other commercial users.
“Likewise, US Nitrogen encountered issues with discharging to Mosheim’s treatment facility — our effluent water basically contains too little available nutrients and is too voluminous for Mosheim to process through its biological treatment system, where the influx of high-volume, low-strength water would starve the micro-organisms — commonly referred to as ‘bugs’ — that feed on waste in the water.
“Mosheim has requested a modification of its discharge permit by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) to allow the most dilute of our water to enter the treatment plant downstream of the critical biological process. Because the Mosheim treatment plant discharges to Lick Creek, which is listed as an impaired stream by TDEC, this approach is viewed as temporary.
“In light of these and associated issues, US Nitrogen sought other avenues for water supply and discharge.
“We looked to the same source of water that the City of Greeneville and other local water utility districts use: the Nolichucky River. The Nolichucky is an abundant source of water for all sorts of uses in this area, including drinking water, industrial, agricultural, and recreational uses. In addition, the Nolichucky serves as home to numerous important aquatic species.
“US Nitrogen has worked closely with state and federal agencies to ensure that our water use will not adversely affect the quality of the Nolichucky River or the health and safety of the humans and wildlife that rely upon it. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and TDEC all have oversight of our activities on the Nolichucky.
“Our net average withdrawal from the river will be approximately one million gallons per day, which is only about one-half of one percent of the low flow of the Nolichucky. Likewise, our discharge to the Nolichucky River will not harm the stream, as confirmed by TDEC’s review and analysis.
“Since 2010 when we first began looking at Greene County as a possible site for the construction of a production facility, US Nitrogen has worked with local, state, and federal government entities and state and local economic development entities to build a facility that will comply with all environmental, health, and safety laws while at the same time producing the raw materials our parent company needs, which in turn provides a boost to the Greene County economy.
“We are proud to call Greene County home. If citizens have questions about US Nitrogen, our operations, or our commitment to the environment, we invite you to attend one or both of the upcoming hearings held by TDEC on our permit applications.
“TDEC is holding a public hearing on our air permit applications on April 15th and a public hearing on our water permit applications on April 17th. Both hearings begin at 7:00 p.m. at West Greene High School.
“Before each of the hearings, TDEC and US Nitrogen personnel will be available at the school to answer questions between 5:00 and 7:00 p.m.”