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.