Monday, December 29, 2014

Firm Tied to Second IDB Member Sells Land to US Nitrogen

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

A second Greene County firm with ties to a member of the Industrial Development Board of Greeneville and Greene County has sold property to US Nitrogen, state and county land records show.
The 3.58 acre property on Pottertown Road was sold Dec. 11 by J and J Warehousing to US Nitrogen for $75,000. J and J is headed by Jerry Fortner, who is a member of the industrial development panel which has strongly backed US Nitrogen in its efforts to open a more than $200 million ammonium nitrate manufacturing facility.
Another Fortner company, C & C Millwright,  is the lead contractor for the US Nitrogen project. As a result Fortner abstained from key IDB votes on US Nitrogen matters.
Fortner did not respond to emails requesting comment about the sale.
Records show J & J bought the property on Oct. 15 of last year for $69,000.
A company tied to another IDB board member, J W. Douthat, also sold property to US Nitrogen but Douthat did cast a favorable vote on a US Nitrogen matter in mid-July. He had abstained in an earlier vote.
Douthat Properties sold two parcels to US Nitrogen for a total price of more than $1 million. A 13.67 acre property was sold for $148,740 on Oct. 9 while a 78.7 acre parcel was sold for $851,257 on Oct. 24.
The US Nitrogen project, which includes a double barreled 12 mile pipeline to the Nolichucky River, has sparked four pending lawsuits challenging both the state and local approvals of the project.
Meanwhile C & C, US Nitrogen and Merkel Brothers Construction Monday announced they were offering a $10,000 reward for anyone providing information leading to the arrest and conviction of the party or parties responsible for damage at a US Nitrogen construction site on the river. The damage to a cofferdam on Dec. 3 is currently under investigation by the Greene County Sheriff's department.
 "The recent vandalism of the cofferdam jeopardized the safety of our workers, damaged specialized equipment and caused delays in construction," according to the company statement.
Anyone with information on the incident is asked to contact the sheriff's office at 423-798-1800.

County Number: 030
County Name: GREENE
Tax Year: 2015
Property Owner and Mailing Address

Jan 1 Owner:
MIDWAY, TN 37809
Property Location

Map: 070 Grp: Ctrl Map: 070 Parcel: 083.01 PI: S/I:000
Value Information

Reappraisal Year:2013
Land Mkt Value:$52,300
Improvement Value:$0
Total Market Appraisal: $52,300

Assessment %:40
General Information

Class: 09 - INDUSTRIAL
City #: 000 City:
SSD1: 000 SSD2: 000
District: 19 Mkt Area: R01
# Bldgs: 0 # Mobile Homes: 0
Utilities - Water / Sewer: 00 - PUBLIC / NONE Utilities - Electricity:01 - PUBLIC
Utilities - Gas / Gas Type:00 - NONE Zoning:
Subdivision Data

Subdivision:   LINDA RENNER PROP
Plat Bk:  H Plat Pg:  42 Block:   Lot:  1-4
Additional Description
Building Information

Extra Features

Sale Information

Sale DatePriceBookPageVac/ImpType InstrumentQualification
Land Information

Deed Acres:3.58 Calc Acres:0.00 Total Land Units:3.58
 Land Type:  03 - SMALL TRACT  Soil Class:    Units:  3.58
       View GIS Map for this Parcel
Glossary of Terms How to Search

Monday, December 22, 2014

US Nitrogen Got Early Fast-Track Approval for Confidential Gas Deal

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

US Nitrogen and Atmos Energy got swift state approval in late 2011 for a confidential gas transportation contract that is key to the operation of a multimillion dollar Greene County manufacturing plant.
Records at the Tennessee Regulatory Authority show the agreement was approved on Dec. 19, 2011 less than five months after its submission on Aug. 2, 2011. The state board also allowed the companies to keep secret the actual payment rate for the 10 year deal which can be extended for up to 20 years more in five year increments.
The docket for the case shows not only the original application but subsequent responses to authority questions were either filed under seal or had key sections redacted. The 12-page agreement was signed by Shawn Rana for US Nitrogen and William Greer for Atmos.
"Details of the contract, including rate structure, are confidential business information," Amanda Jennings, a US Nitrogen spokeswoman wrote in an email Monday.
In a statement issued in early 2012, state regulatory authority chairman Kenneth C. Hill said the approval had been fast-tracked because the panel "recognized the significant economic impact this would have for the area."
Hill and other authority members also attended a January 2012 groundbreaking ceremony for the new plant
The state files on the project also detail the timeline leading to the agreement which show the groundwork for the project was being set long before any public notice, which came in February of 2011.
In fact talks between Atmos and US Nitrogen, the application states, began in October of 2010. At that time US Nitrogen was considering Tennessee along with unspecified sites in other states. US Nitrogen filed incorporation papers in Tennessee on Dec. 1, 2010.
The agreement between Atmos and US Nitrogen came on June 23, 2011.
Though an exact date was not provided, the filings also show that the first contact to Atmos was made by the Greene County Partnership "and other area industrial development interests."
In January of 2011, the filings state, US Nitrogen informed Atmos of the location choice on Pottertown Road in Greene County. That same month, records show US Nitrogen made its first land purchase, a 1.38 acre property in Greene County.
An Atmos Energy official said that the contract approved by the state was only for the transportation of natural gas, but declined to respond to other questions.
"The contract between Atmos Energy and US Nitrogen is a transportation-only contract," Mike Ellis of Atmos wrote in an email.
Jason Freeeark of US Nitrogen, however, indicated in response to questions that Atmos might also be supplying gas.
"When fully operational , US Nitrogen will be one of Greene County's largest natural gas consumers, purchasing approximately $18 million annually. US Nitrogen considered several other options and proposals before selecting Atmos Energy as its natural gas supplier," Freeark said in a written response to questions.
He noted that part of the contract calls for US Nitrogen to pay Atmos $600,000 for the construction of "necessary facilities" to supply the plant.
The natural gas will be used in the manufacture of ammonium nitrate, which will then be shipped to Austin Powder facilities in other states. US Nitrogen is a subsidiary of Ohio based Austin Powder.
According to the state application the state authority approval was necessary because the proposal called for US Nitrogen to pay for gas transit services below an established tariff.
The filing states that a counterproposal to the Atmos proposal was offered by Spectra Energy but provides no further details.
Though the filing indicated the contract would go into effect with the then anticipated plant start-up date of October of 2012, Freeark said that the effective date will be set when the plant actually opens. That has been projected for March of next year.
US Nitrogen has faced delays in obtaining some necessary approvals and now faces four lawsuits challenging state and local approvals for the project.

Note to view TN Regulatory docket on petition:

Friday, December 19, 2014

Chancellor Hears Arguments in Greene County Pipeline Case

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

A Davidson court official has taken under advisement motions to throw out a suit brought by landowners opposed to a 12-mile pipeline in Greene County being constructed by US Nitrogen.
Chancellor Russell Perkins Friday indicated he could rule on the matter within the next two weeks.
The case was brought by a group of landowners who are challenging the authority of the Tennessee Department of Transportation to grant a right-of-way permit issued for the US Nitrogen project.
Attorneys for the state argued that the suit was premature and the landowners had failed to exhaust administrative appeals. They also have questioned the right of the landowners to file the suit in the first place.
Elizabeth Murphy, representing the landowners, said that because of a new state law, the permit issued by the state was final 60 days after it was issued Aug. 1 and there was no mechanism for an administrative appeal.
The landowners suit charges that TDOT did not have the legal authority to grant a right-of-way to a company other than a public utility.
The suit, which seeks an immediate halt to the pipeline construction, is one of several ongoing legal challenges to the US Nitrogen project.
The company intends to use the pipeline to pump millions of gallons of water per week from the Nolichucky River to its $200 million ammonium nitrate manufacturing plant now nearing completion in Midway.
The company disclosed Friday that repairs had been completed along the river where the pipeline will be located. They have charged that a cofferdam had been damaged by vandals. US Nitrogen officials said that with the repair completed, work on the pipeline will resume.

Monday, December 15, 2014

US Nitrogen Donates Funds for Firefighters' Training

US Nitrogen officials have announced they will donate $50,000 tomorrow to the Greeneville Fire Department as a contribution for the construction of a five-story training facility.
The training facility will be located adjacent to the Greeneville Power and Light operations Center and be used to train fire personnel by simulating rescues from multi-story structures.
According to US Nitrogen the training facility will include steps, cage ladders and will have equipment for rappelling training.
Construction of the training facility on property provided by the power company is expected to begin shortly.
"The Greeneville facility will be able to host basic firefighting training classes for cadets and ongoing practical skills training for Greeneville Fire Department employees, county volunteer fire departments and regional fire department members of Northeast Tennessee Regional Fire Training Association,"  the company stated.

First US Nitrogen Purchase Preceded Disclosure

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

US Nitrogen made its first purchase of Greene County land in early 2011 nearly a month before there was any public disclosure of its now controversial plans to build a multimillion dollar manufacturing facility.
The first US Nitrogen purchase, county land records show, was recorded on Jan. 26, 2011 from Steven L. Strange, who was paid $240,000 for a 1.38 acre property he had purchased in 1998 for $54,500.
The purchase, at more than four times the original purchase price, came nearly a month before area residents say they first learned of what has become a controversial issue.
Those  residents, including Don Bible, now a vocal opponent of the project, say the first notice of the project came shortly before a Feb. 22 news conference that included Gov. Bill Haslam and local and US Nitrogen officials.
The property located on West Seven Springs Road, is currently valued at $111,700, according to state and county property assessment records.
Strange, when contacted by telephone, said he did not want to discuss what led up to the sale.
"I'd really rather not," he said when asked how the sale came about.
Strange did say he was pleased with the transaction.
"They've been very fair," he said of US Nitrogen officials. "They've done everything they said they'd do."
The Strange property was one of dozens of parcels amassed by US Nitrogen in 2011 and 2012, which were than deeded over to the Industrial Development Board of Greeneville and Greene County for no consideration.
Records show Strange, a longtime area resident, subsequently purchased other property in Greene County.
US Nitrogen, which plans to have its ammonium nitrate manufacturing facility operational by early next year, has continued to purchase properties with one of the most recent being a parcel owned by Douthat Properties LLC for $851,251. The 78.7 acre tract was sold on Oct. 24.
J.W. Douthat, who heads the property company, is a member of the IDB board and voted in favor of the US Nitrogen project.
A second 13.67 acre Douthat property was purchased by US Nitrogen for $148,740 on Oct. 9.
The project became  more controversial after US Nitrogen announced plans to build a 12 mile long pipeline from its plant to the Nolichucky River. Millions of gallons of water per day will be pumped from the river for use in cooling towers. Some, but not all of that water, will then be pumped back to the river.
Bible, who is the lead plaintiff in a suit challenging the legality of the pipeline project, said that the first notice of the project came just one day before the press conference featuring Gov. Haslam.
In addition to the Bible suit, three other legal challenges to the project are now pending in courts in Greene and Davidson counties.
A hearing on the Bible suit is scheduled for Jan. 22 in Greene County Chancery Court.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Pipeline Construction Will Continue

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

US Nitrogen will continue construction of its pipeline project in the wake of a hearing on a suit aimed at blocking the 12 mile long excavation.
In a statement issued Tuesday, US Nitrogen President Justin Freeark said, "US Nitrogen will move forward with pipeline construction as scheduled."
He added that the pipeline and the entire project, including an ammonium nitrate manufacturing facility, are expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2015.
"We remain committed to this solution,"he said in a statement, referring to the plan to pump water from the Nolichucky River to US Nitrogen for cooling towers.
"East Tennessee is our new home, and we strive to be a good corporate citizen and partner to Greene County, Freeark concluded. 
Freeark's comments came following a Monday hearing in Greene County Chancery Court in which US Nitrogen's lawyers challenged the timing of filings made by the landowners who oppose the pipeline project. They later withdrew that motion after an agreement was reached on the timing of future briefs and a hearing.
Chancery Judge Douglas Jenkins scheduled a hearing on all pending motions for Jan. 22.
Landowners who filed the suit have expressed concern that by the time the court acts on the suit the pipeline will be virtually completed.
In a statement issued after the Monday hearing D. Scott Hurley, the plaintiffs' attorney, said that while he was pleased with the outcome, the one drawback was the fact that US Nitrogen can continue construction at least until Jan. 22.
"But the court is fully aware that we are contending that the construction is illegal. US Nitrogen is disregarding these risks and forging ahead with their construction," Hurley said. "US Nitrogen is making a conscious decision to accept the risk that their project is illegal."

Monday, December 8, 2014

Court Delays Action on Pipeline To Jan. 22

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

A Greene County Chancery Court judge has delayed any immediate action to halt a controversial pipeline project and set a Jan. 22 date for a hearing on various legal challenges to the ongoing US Nitrogen construction.
Chancery Judge Douglas Jenkins set the trial date during a hearing Monday in a suit brought by a group of local land owners who contend the pipeline, which will pump millions of gallons of water per day to US Nitrogen's manufacturing facility, was illegally approved.
The opponents of the project say they are fearful the pipeline will be completely constructed by the the scheduled hearing date.
Under the judge's decision the landowners will have till Friday to amend their complaint and raise any additional issues.
US Nitrogen and the Industrial Development Board of Greeneville and Greene County will have till Jan. 8 to respond.
Scott Hurley, the landowners' attorney said he was pleased with the outcome.
"The one negative for our side is that the construction of the pipeline can continue at least until Jan. 22, but the court is fully aware that we are contending that the construction is illegal," Hurley said.
 The suit is one of four to be filed challenging the project.
The US Nitrogen plant will produce ammonium nitrate.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

As Key Hearing Approaches, Sabotage Charged

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

Just days before a critical court hearing, the company building a controversial 12 mile pipeline to the Nolichucky River in Greene County is charging that the project has been sabotaged and law enforcement officers are on the case.
The charge was leveled this week by Justin Freeark of U.S. Nitrogen who said an unknown individual breached a barrier protecting a section of the river where pipeline work is ongoing.
Charging that the action amounted to criminal trespass and vandalism, Freeark labeled the incident "an attempt to sabotage our construction site and jeopardize the safety of our workers."
According to Freeark's statement, the breach was discovered by Greene County sheriff deputies hired by US Nitrogen to secure the work area. He said the sheriff's office is now investigating the matter.
The charges come just ahead of a Monday court hearing on a request by opponents of the project to get a court ordered halt to the construction.
Don Bible, the lead plaintiff in the case, questions the charges of vandalism and sabotage noting that blasting was heard in the area of the incident on Wednesday. The work area is along the Nolichucky in Cocke County, just over the Greene County line.
He said he  believes the blasting damaged the barrier, known as a cofferdam, and water started pouring in to the work area. Another possibility, he said, is that the blasting opened a fissure in the limestone rock in the enclosed area letting water build up inside the enclosed area.
Freeark estimated that the damage would take a week to repair.
"We are disturbed that a person would trespass on private property in an attempt to sabotage our construction site," Freeark said.
The pipeline will pump millions of gallons of water a day to and from the Nolichucky to the new $200 million US Nitrogen facility, which will produce ammonium nitrate.
The Monday hearing will be held at 9 a.m in Greene County Chancery Court.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Groups Decry Claims on Audibility of Public Meetings

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

Two groups are charging  that a claim made in a pending lawsuit would make a mockery of the state Open Meeting Law.
The statement issued Wednesday by the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government and the East Tennessee Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists came in response to a claim in a pending lawsuit that citizens attending a public meeting don't have a right to hear the proceedings.
That claim was made in a recent filing by attorneys for US Nitrogen and the Industrial Development Board of Greeneville and Greene County.
In the filing the board and the private firm charged that the law is silent on the issue of audibility.
In the statement issued Wednesday, the two organizations cited a section of the state Sunshine Law which states, "Each part of a meeting required to be open shall be audible to the public at the location specified in the notice of meeting."
The audibility issue arose at a July 18 meeting of the IDB when a resident, who was later arrested, was escorted from the session after complaining that the testimony could not be heard.
The charges against that resident were later dropped.
"The law makes clear that efforts to circumvent the Tennessee Open Meetings Law will not be tolerated," the statement reads, adding that the claim asserted by the IDB "would make a mockery" of state law.
The audibility dispute arose in one of several legal challenges to a US Nitrogen plan to build a 12 mile pipeline from its new manufacturing facility to the Nolichucky River. The pipelines would draw millions of gallons of water a day from the river for cooling purposes and then return them to the river.