By Walter F. Roche Jr.
US Nitrogen, the company building a multimillion manufacturing facility in Tennessee's Greene County, has amassed dozens of properties totaling hundreds of acres at a cost well in excess of $7 million, most of it paid to private landowners
After acquiring the properties, records show, the company has turned over many of them to to the Industrial Development Board of Greeneville and Greene County for a dollar, effectively removing them from the tax rolls.
The land purchases which date back to 2010 are ongoing, according to a US Nitrogen spokeswoman and additional purchases will come as properties become available.
One of the recent purchases, county land records show, involved the purchase of nearly 37 acres from two couples, Janey and Billy J. Larkin and Diane L.Smith and Donald L. Smith. US Nitrogen paid $700,000, county records show.
Asked about the recent purchase, a company spokeswoman, Amanda Jennings, said the property near Gravel Woods Road will be part of a 480 acre "aesthetic green zone" surrounding the 50-acre manufacturing site.
"US Nitrogen will consider purchasing additional property to supplement this area as property becomes available," she said in a statement.
Several properties, deeds show, were purchased by US Nitrogen from the Cansler family and related companies. These include 43.5 acres from Johnnie Cansler for a $500,000 purchase price in February of 2012. That followed a purchase of 74.5 acres from Cansler for $558,750 a month earlier.
The Greene County Foundation sold 26.6 acres on Pottertown Road to US Nitrogen on the same day for $286,995.
Asked in a telephone interview how the purchases came about, Johnnie Cansler said, "I don't know. They wanted the land."
Cansler added that the family was satisfied with the transactions.
Purchases from other parties have continued in 2014 with a one acre purchase for $90,000 in May and 5 acres on Gravel Woods Road purchased for $200,000.
County records show that on Jan 1, 2013 16 of the properties purchased by the company were sold to the Industrial Development Board for $1. Included were two properties purchased earlier from Cansler and another parcel bought from a Cansler family partnership.
Another parcel purchased by US Nitrogen from Joy L. Rader, the Greene County Register of Deeds, was included in the package of properties sold by USN to the county development board.
Records at the Greene County Registry of Deeds show US Nitrogen purchased an option on more than 23 acres of land on Sept. 1, 2013 from J.W. Douthat, who was then a member of the Old Knox Utility District Board.
Though US Nitrogen originally indicated it would be purchasing millions of gallons of water per day from the district, it has since sought approval to run 12 miles of pipeline directly to the Nolichucky River.
Lawyers for Old Knox have since filed a suit seeking to block the pipeline plans.
The Douthat option is part of USN's new plan.
Jennings, the company spokeswoman, said in an email response to questions that the Douthat option remains in effect, but she declined to disclose how much was paid for it.
"The land was identified by a series of
third-party studies of several properties along the river as the optimal
area to avoid impact on wildlife and areas of historical significance
for the intake and outfall structures for the proposed IDB-owned
industrial water system," she wrote in the email.
Douthat, who also has served on the IDB, encountered criticism from opponents of the $200 million project when he voted last summer on a matter involving the project.
Douthat did not respond to a phone call seeking comment. Previously he has stated that he saw no reason to recuse himself from voting on the project.
Four separate legal challenges to the US Nitrogen project are pending in the court system.
Don Bible, who is a plaintiff in one of those suits said that as far as he can tell it will be years before any property taxes will be paid on any of the nearly 500 acres, including those sold to the IDB.
Supporters contend that the new jobs created by US Nitrogen will provide a major boost to the local economy.
Late last week the project won key approvals from the Tennessee Valley Authority and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Tennessee Department of Transportation previously reversed itself and approved a revised version of the pipeline plan.