Wednesday, May 23, 2018
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
US Nitrogen has avoided paying an estimated $1.6 million in water and sewer charges thanks to a controversial permit from the Tennessee Department of Transportation that is facing an ongoing court challenge.
The Greene County chemical firm has reported to the state Department of Environment and Conservation that it has pumped some 236 million gallons of water from the Nolichucky River for use in the production of ammonium nitrate. During the same 13 month period the company has discharged 110 million gallons of water back into the river, according to the company's reports.
Based on the current rates charged by the Old Knoxville Utility District the company would have been charged about $1.1 million had it purchased the water from the district. US Nitrogen would have incurred charges of nearly $500,000 had it discharged the waste water to the Lick Creek Valley Treatment plant.
Those figures come to light as a group of local citizens are continuing their suit challenging the legality of the TDOT permit.
A hearing on that suit is scheduled for tomorrow before Judge Ellen Hobbs Lyle.
Under the permit TDOT allowed US Nitrogen to install a 12 mile dual pipeline from its Midway manufacturing facility to the Nolichucky River.
The suit charges that TDOT did not have the legal authority to grant the permit and that the pipeline was partially installed on property owned by some of the local residents, including Don Bible and Jack Renner. Both are plaintiffs in the suit.
Under the permit the pipeline was supposed to be installed within the right-of-way of state roads, but the landowners contend that the right-of-way was effectively eliminated due to repaving.
Tomorrow's hearing is on a motion by the landowners to force US Nitrogen to answer 16 questions related to the placement of the pipeline, including the work done by a surveyor hired by the chemical company.
US Nitrogen's estimated savings are based on the current rates charged by the Old Knoxville Highway Utility District and the Lick Creek Valley Wastewater Treatment Authority. The utility district charges commercial customers a little over $500 for every 1,000 gallons. The treatment plant charges $4.44 per 1,000 gallons for customers discharging more than 180,000 gallons.
US Nitrogen does discharge some wastewater to the sewer district and in fact the company has been fined $19,050 for exceeding allowable limits of some chemicals.
When the US Nitrogen project was initially made public company officials stated they planned to use both local utilities, but that plan was abandoned in favor of the pipeline.
Tuesday, May 22, 2018
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
Citing the growth of algae in effluent ponds, US Nitrogen is seeking state approval for a change in a a chemical used in its water treatment plant, part of its Greene County chemical manufacturing operation.
In a May 8 letter to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, US Nitrogen Plant Manager Andrew Velo wrote that the change was necessary to minimize the amount of phosphorous entering effluent ponds on the company's sprawling Midway site.
"As you know, the reason for this change is to minimize the amount of phosphorous entering US Nitrogen's effluent ponds," Velo wrote in the letter to Vojin Janic of TDEC.
He said the current level of phosphorous "appears to be adding to the growth of algae in the effluent ponds associated with the US Nitrogen IDB (Industrial Development Board of Greeneville and Greene County)water treatment plant.
Contending that the switch in chemicals would not be considered a significant change in the state's permit, Velo said,"It is US Nitrogen's opinion that NAICC-1611T is an acceptable substitute for PCT 191T which was evaluated as part of US Nitrogen's (NPDES) permit."
A data sheet on the proposed chemical substitute provided by the company to the state listed the acceptable limits of the new chemical in the effluent necessary to avoid an impact on various marine species such as silver side fish and fathead minnows.
The disclosure sheet also states that the proposed chemical can cause severe skin burns and eye damage to humans.
"If this product becomes waste, it could meet the criteria of a hazardous waste," the disclosure sheet states.
Velo's letter states that use of the new chemical was "necessary for effective and efficient production of process water from the raw water sourced from the Nolichucky River."
Monthly reports from US Nitrogen show that some 236 million gallons of water have been pumped from the river since March of 2016. The company uses the river water in the production of ammonium nitrate which is later used at another site in the production of explosives.
According to the letter "the expected residual concentration is expected to be approximately 15 parts per million" and include an organic acid blend containing poly-maleic acid, maleic acid and methyl butanedioic acid" with an ecological toxicity similar to or less than the currently used anti-scalant."
Saturday, May 19, 2018
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
A Greene County chemical company pumped some 236 million gallons of free water from the Nolichucky River during its first two years of operation, according to reports filed with the state of Tennessee.
The data, submitted on a monthly basis by US Nitrogen, shows the volume has varied from a high of 38.7 million gallons in December of 2017 to zero. There were six months over the little over two year period when no water was pumped from the river to the Midway company.
That amount of water (236 million gallons)is roughly equal to all the water used by all customers of Santa Barbara, Calif. in a day.
The monthly reports, which are required under US Nitrogen's permit from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, also disclose the amount of water the company pumps back into the river. That total was a little over 110.5 million gallons from March of 2016 through April of this year.
US Nitrogen, a subsidiary of Ohio based Austin Powder, uses the river water in the production of ammonium nitrate, which is then used by the parent firm in the production of explosives.
The Tennessee company began filing the reports in January of 2016, but did not report drawing any water from the river until March of that year.
The most recent report covered the month of April of this year. It showed the company pumped some 7.79 million gallons from the river and discharged 3.58 million gallons back into the Nolichucky during the month. On 11 days during the month the company pumped no water back into the river.
The highest single day amount pumped to the plant was a little over 1 million on April 23. The highest discharge was a little over 500,000 gallons on April 4. The company pumped water from the Nolichucky on 26 days of the month.
Data from all the monthly reports shows the largest amount pumped back into the river came in October of 2017 when the company discharged 9.1 million to the river.
There were only two months, January and February of 2016, when the company reported no river discharge.
The monthly reports show that US Nitrogen pumped more than 1 million gallons from the river on 29 separate days. The highest single day total was 1.84280 million gallons on Oct. 15, 2016
Thursday, May 17, 2018
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
In advance of a key hearing a group of Eastern Tennessee landowners are asking a Nashville judge to order a local chemical company to answer 16 questions about the path of a 12 mile dual pipeline from Midway to the Nolichucky River.
In a motion filed recently in Davidson Chancery Court, the six landowners said the answers to their questions are essential to determine if, as they have charged, the pipeline illegally encroaches on their properties.
Citing US Nitrogen"s "wholesale refusal" to answer any of the questions, attorney Elizabeth Murphy noted that US Nitrogen's lawyers insisted the information sought by the group is irrelevant.
Meanwhile, other parties to the suit, the Tennessee Department of Transportation and the Industrial Development Board of Greeneville and Greene County, have stated they can't answer the questions because US Nitrogen is the only party with the information.
"The discovery is directly relevant to petitioner's standing allegations," the motion states.
A hearing on the motion is scheduled for next Friday in the courtroom of Chancery Judge Ellen Hobbs Lyle.
The plaintiff's in the case include Don Bible and Jack Renner. Both contend that the pipeline is not located within a right of way but invades their properties. The suit contends that the TDOT pipeline permit granted to US Nitrogen is illegal on multiple grounds,including the fact that there was no right of way for TDOT to grant rights to.
The plaintiffs also charge that US Nitrogen knew it was intruding on private property but "installed the pipelines anyway in open disregard of private property rights."
The information sought by the landowners includes details of the way the so-called right of way was established including the work a registered land surveyor, Jeff Miller, did in behalf of US Nitrogen to justify the pipelines course.
The pipeline is used to pump millions of gallons of water from the Nolichucky for US Nitrogen's use in manufacturing ammonium nitrate. In fact there are two 12 mile pipelines, one to draw the water to the Midway plant and a 12 mile return pipe through which some but not nearly all of the water is pumped back into the Nolichucky.
The lawsuit has already gone to an appeals court after the original judge assigned to the case dismissed the claims concluding that the landowners did not have legal standing to even raise the questions. An appeals court rejected that conclusion and sent the case back the chancery court.
The chancery judge who issued the first ruling recused herself from the case and it was re-assigned to Hobbs Lyle.
Wednesday, May 16, 2018
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
Key depositions are expected in the near future in a federal lawsuit brought by a Tennessee chemical firm against a Georgia engineering firm which was involved in the construction of a $200 million Greene County industrial complex.
Records in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, GA. show lawyers for Weatherly Inc. will be deposing Randy Fortner of C & C Millwright, a Tennessee firm that served as a main contractor in the construction of U.S. Nitrogen's ammonium nitrate plant in Midway, Tenn.
Weatherly also has issued notice that is seeking the records of C & C Millwright and will be deposing two other individuals, Randy Poteet and Clark Breaux. The roles of the two were not detailed.
The notices are the latest development in a suit filed by US Nitrogen against Weatherly. In the original complaint US Nitrogen charged that multiple errors by Weatherly substantially delayed the opening of the US Nitrogen and also caused US nitrogen to incur some $30 million in added costs.
Fortner was not only the head of C & C Millwright but also a member of the Industrial Development Authority of Greeneville and Greene County, the agency that played a key role in getting US Nitrogen to locate in Midway. Fortner did abstain from voting on matters involving US Nitrogen.
Additionally Fortner's company, J & J Warehousing sold a 3.58 parcel to US Nitrogen for $75,000.
In its original complaint in the Atlanta suit US Nitrogen charged that pillars designed for the plant by Weatherly were too weak and collapsed forcing a major re-build. Still other defects discovered later included faulty design of storage tanks that caused "cracks and other defects.
Records in that suit show that major equipment purchased for the US Nitrogen facility were decades old including a nitric acid plant that was 30-years-old.
Weatherly has denied that it was responsible for problems cited by US Nitrogen and also noted a provision in their contract with US Nitrogen limits damages to $2.2 million.
Thursday, May 10, 2018
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
US Nitrogen has reported to state and federal environment officials that an April equipment failure caused the release of liquid and vaporized ammonia to the atmosphere.
In a letter sent to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, US Nitrogen plant manager Andrew Velo wrote that the failure and release of ammonia occurred on April 11 at 6:05 a.m.
He wrote that the release lasted about four minutes and some 45.2 pounds of ammonia vapor was released to the atmosphere from the body of a pressure safety valve.
In the letter Velo stated that since the amount released was less than 100 pounds "no CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act) reportable quantity was released as a result of this incident."
According to the letter from the Greene County chemical company, the incident occurred while the company was venting ammonia to a flare to relieve an abnormal ammonia loading system condition.
"As a result of the follow-up investigation, US Nitrogen has determined the internal bellows on the PSV failed due to a pressure impulse. This failure allowed ammonia on the vent side of the PSV (pressure relief valve) to be released through a vent hole in the body of the PSV,
He added that as a corrective action "US Nitrogen is evaluating the vent piping system to improve backpressure, flows and drainage.
Velo's letter was dated May 1.
Friday, May 4, 2018
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
US Nitrogen has been fined $4,750 for violating pollution control requirements of a local wastewater treatment plant for the second year in a row.
According to Mosheim officials, the Midway chemical company exceeded the limits for nitrogen in its wastewater three times in the six month period ending on June 30, 2017. In addition the company exceeded the monthly average limits in two of the six months.
"Violations are defined as those in which 33 percent or more of the measurements for each pollutant parameter taken during a six month period equal or exceed the product of the numeric pre-treatment standard or requirement multiplied by the applicable Technical Review Criteria (TRC)." according to Mosheim officials.
According to Mosheim Mayor Thomas L. Gregg Jr. the company was cited for a total of five violations.
The company was also fined $14,750 a year ago for similar violations of the pre-treatment requirements of the Lick Creek Valley Wastewater Treatment plant.