By Walter F. Roche Jr.
A group of citizens who live near the Nolichucky River are asking a Davidson Chancery Court judge to declare illegal and void a permit issued by the Tennessee Department of Transportation for the construction of a 10 mile pipeline along two state highways for the benefit of private firms.
In a 16-page suit filed late last week, the six residents charged that TDOT exceeded its authority in granting the permit to the Industrial Development Board of Greeneville and Greene County.
The suit charges that under state law and regulations highway rights of way can only be used for projects, like a public utility, that will benefit the general public.
Rights of way, the suit states, are "reserved for utilities not private industry."
The suit is one of several legal challenges to the US Nitrogen plan which would use some 2 million gallons of water per day from the Nolichucky River to cool towers for the plant which will produce ammonium nitrate.
Other suits were filed by another citizens' group and the Old Knox Utility District.
Plaintiffs in the latest suit include Robert Sapp, Richard Wisecarver and Ruth Dolen. Named as defendants are the Greene County IDB, state Transportation Commissioner John Schoer and US Nitrogen.
"The (TDOT) decision directly impairs and will damage the land and riparian rights of these petitioners," the complaint states.
Asked to respond to the latest suit, a spokeswoman said, "US Nitrogen has not had an opportunity to analyze the petition or
confer with TDOT and the IDB and cannot comment on the merits of the
"US Nitrogen believes the water pipeline project
is the best available option for both the company and the surrounding
community and continues to work toward completion of its facility in
early 2015," the statement continued.
As the suit notes the early August TDOT approval came after an earlier application had been turned down. The original May 2 application listed US Nitrogen as the owner of the pipeline and a TDOT attorney concluded that did not meet legal requirements because it would not serve a public purpose.
The second application calls for the IDB to own the pipeline and make it available to US Nitrogen and one other company.
"The public was led to believe the plant project provided a financial benefit because it was buying water from the local utility," the suit states.
But those plans were scrapped in favor of the pipeline plan, which the suit charges would allow the private firm to get the water it needs at no cost.