Thursday, January 22, 2015

Chancery Judge Won't Halt Pipeline Construction

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

Residents seeking an immediate halt to the construction of a 12-mile pipeline from Mosheim to the Nolichucky River were turned back Thursday during a lengthy hearing before a Greene County judge.
Chancellor Douglas Jenkins ruled that the citizens group did not provide sufficient evidence that the continuation of construction on the US Nitrogen pipeline would cause irreparable harm.
Ruling from the bench after a lengthy hearing in Greeneville, Jenkins denied the motion for a temporary injunction.
The ruling came in a suit filed by area residents who oppose the more than $200 million project. US Nitrogen, a subsidiary of Ohio explosives manufacturer Austin Powder, plans to open an ammonium nitrate manufacturing facility this Spring.
Jenkins also rejected claims that the development board lacked the legal authority to enter into the agreement with US Nitrogen.
But Jenkins stopped short of dismissing the suit altogether and the litigation will continue albeit on narrower grounds.
He ruled that the plaintiffs can go forward with their claim that the Industrial Development Board of Greeneville and Greene County violated the state Open Meeting Law during the July 18 session at which the pipeline plan was approved.
If they succeed, the agreement between the IDB and US Nitrogen could be nullified.
"It's a big win in that we can now take depositions of those involved. We want to prove that this violation was intentional," said April Bryant, one of the plaintiffs.
The suit charges that the law was violated because citizens attending the meeting could not hear the discussion prior to the favorable vote. In fact one resident, Eddie Overholt, was arrested when he complained about the muffled discussion.
Charges against Overholt were later dropped.
Bryant said the judge also agreed to move forward quickly with the suit and schedule an expedited trial date.
US Nitrogen has stated that the pipeline will be completed this spring along with the manufacturing facility that will produce ammonium nitrate. Water piped from the Nolichucky will be used in the manufacturing process.
In a statement released after the court hearing, Justin Freeark, plant manager for US Nitrogen, stated that work on the pipeline will continue.
"US Nitrogen remains committed to the pipeline project, and our contractors will continue construction, which began last October," he said.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Open Government Lawyer to Appear at US Nitrogen Hearing

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

By agreement of all parties, an attorney for a coalition favoring open government will be allowed to address the court tomorrow at a hearing on a suit aimed at blocking a proposed 12-mile pipeline from the Nolichucky River to a new industrial facility.
The agreement to allow Rick Hollow, the lawyer for the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government to appear was announced on the eve of the hearing in the suit against US Nitrogen and the Industrial Development Board of Greeneville and Greene County.
The coalition had requested approval to present arguments on whether citizens attending a meeting of a public body have a right not only to attend meetings but also to hear the discussions of board members.
The issue arose in the suit brought by a group of area residents who have challenged the legality of the development board's July vote to approve the pipeline plan. The challenge is based in part on the fact that residents attending the meeting were not able to hear the deliberations preceding the favorable vote.
Lawyers for the board and US Nitrogen have argued in court papers that the state Open Meeting Law does not mandate that citizens be able to hear the deliberations.
Also at Thursday's hearing Scott Hurley, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, will present arguments to Chancellor Douglas Jenkins in favor of the issuance of a temporary injunction to halt the ongoing construction of the pipeline. Both the pipeline and the $200 million US Nitrogen ammonia nitrate manufacturing facility are slated for completion this spring.
Lawyers for the board and US Nitrogen will be arguing for their motion to have the suit dismissed.
The hearing will be held at 9 a.m. Thursday in the Greene County courthouse.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Large Turnout Likely for US Nitrogen Hearing

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

A large turnout is anticipated for a key court hearing Thursday in a case filed by local residents seeking to block plans for a 12-mile pipeline from a new Greene County industrial facility to the
Nolichucky River.
The 9 a.m. hearing before Chancellor Douglas Jenkins will include arguments for an order to halt the pipeline construction immediately and a motion by US Nitrogen and the county industrial development board to have the suit thrown out.
The plaintiffs in the suit include dozens of local landowners along the path of the pipeline, which is already well under construction.
On its web site, Save the Nolichucky has posted details about the time and location of the hearing and encouragements for high attendance. "Stand up for your river," reads the title of a recent posting.
The suit charges that the development board acted improperly in approving the pipeline last year and cites the arrest of local resident Eddie Overholt, when he complained that those in attendance at the session could not hear the discussion.
Lawyers for the IDB and US Nitrogen countered with the claim that the state Open Meeting Law does not give residents the right to hear the proceedings.
It was that claim that prompted the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government to file a motion seeking to join in on the suit. That motion will also be up for consideration Thursday.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Open Government Group Moves to Intervene In US Nitrogen Suit

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

An advocacy group for open government has moved to intervene in a pending suit challenging the legality of actions taken by Greene County officials on a controversial industrial development project.
In a filing with the Greene County Chancery Court, the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government is charging that the assertions of Greene County officials about the interpretation of the state Open Meeting Law are "clearly wrong."
The action comes in a suit filed by area residents opposed to the placement of a 12 mile long double barreled pipeline from the Nolichucky River to the site of a new US Nitrogen manufacturing facility.
The Nashville based non-profit is challenging the claim by lawyers for the Industrial Development Board of Greeneville and Greene County that the state Open Meeting Law does not give citizens the right to hear the proceedings of a public body.
Calling that assertion "in error and contrary to the spirit and intent of the legislation," the coalition is asking the court not to base a decision in the case on that claim.
The filing states that the coalition is not taking a position on the underlying issues in the lawsuit.
The suit is one of several challenging the legality of various aspects of the $220 million US Nitrogen project.
The audibility of public proceedings became an issue after a local resident was arrested during a development board meeting when he complained that board members couldn't be heard. The charges were later dropped.
The new facility is slated to become operational later this year and will produce ammonium nitrate.