Monday, November 30, 2015
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
A key state permit granted to US Nitrogen by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has gone past its original expiration date, but has been "administratively extended" as state officials review a renewal application.
TDEC records show the permit allowing US Nitrogen to discharge millions of gallons of wastewater in the Nolichucky River had a Nov. 30, 2015 expiration date.
US Nitrogen submitted a renewal application on June 2 and TDEC records indicate that state officials subsequently made a site visit to the new ammonium nitrate facility in Midway. Those officials made note of the fact that the facility has not yet gone into operation.
A spokeswoman for US Nitrogen said Monday that the company was told by state officials that the existing permit was extended.
"The permit is administratively extended as they (US Nitrogen) submitted a complete application in a timely manner," Amanda Jennings said US Nitrogen officials were told by state officials.
The existing permit was issued in June of last year.
Company officials have announced plans for a phased-in start up late this year.
The state records show local residents, including Donahue Bible, have written the state agency expressing their opposition to the permit.
The permit file also shows that magnesium levels in all groundwater monitoring spots recently showed levels substantially exceeding benchmark levels. The company has attributed the readings to naturally occurring factors and the recent application of fertilizers.
US Nitrogen has already constructed a 12-mile double pipeline to move water to and from the river. According to the application, the pipeline enters the river at 20.8 miles from its origin.
Monday, November 23, 2015
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
The Greene County resident who brought his concerns about the US Nitrogen project to a grand jury expressed disappointment following his appearance today.
"Secrecy laws prevent me from saying anything more than that I was disappointed to not be able to get any documentation past the three member panel of grand jury foreman and two jurors," Donahue Bible said in a brief statement following his meeting with the three grand jury members.
"I have never been more ashamed of Greene County in my 79 years," he added.
Bible has questioned three land transactions between US Nitrogen and J.W. Douthat, a local resident who serves on the Industrial Development Board of Greeneville and Greene County.
Douthat also served on the board of the Old Knox Utility District until April of 2014.
Douthat and US Nitrogen have insisted there was nothing improper about the land option and two subsequent property purchases from Douthat.
Bible asked for the opportunity to appear before the panel after District Attorney General Dan Armstrong told Bible and his attorney that he saw no violations of state law in the transactions.
Bible has pointed out that Douthat voted once on a measure involving US Nitrogen's pipeline proposal.
The pipeline allowed US Nitrogen to bypass the utility district in obtaining and disposing of millions of gallons of water for its ammonium nitrate manufacturing facility.
Sunday, November 22, 2015
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
A Greene County resident is set to appear tomorrow before members of a county grand jury to give testimony about three land transactions involving a local official and US Nitrogen.
Donahue Bible, a longtime opponent of the US Nitrogen project, made a personal plea to the grand jury foreman Ron Metcalfe for the opportunity to present details of the three transactions all involving US Nitrogen and J.W. Douthat.
He made the plea under a rarely used provision of state law under which private citizens can personally bring information to the panel.
Metcalfe agreed and the Monday date for an appearance was set.
Bible made the personal appeal after District Attorney Dan Armstrong told Bible and his attorney that he did not believe the transactions involved any criminal conduct.
Bible will meet with Metcalfe and two other grand jurors. They will then bring the matter to the full grand jury which will then determine whether to initiate a formal investigation or drop the matter.
Both US Nitrogen and Douthat have denied any wrongdoing.
The first transaction, a land option agreement, was signed on Sept. 13, 2013, while Douthat was a member of the Old Knox Utility District and the Industrial Development Board of Greeneville and Greene County. Both boards have played major roles in the US Nitrogen project.
Douthat abstained from an earlier vote on the project, but then did vote as an IDB board member at a July 18, 2014 IDB meeting on a motion to resubmit for state approval a 12 mile double barrelled pipeline to be located along the rights of way of two state highways.
The motion was approved and the state, in an apparent reversal, also endorsed the pipeline plan.
With the pipeline to the Nolichucky River, US Nitrogen was able to avoid purchasing millions of gallons a month from the utility district. Douthat eventually resigned from the utility district board.
Though the company says the option agreement was never exercised, Douthat's company did later sell two parcels to US Nitrogen.
A 13.67 acre property was sold to US Nitrogen for $148,740 on Oct. 9 of last year. Douthat Properties, LLC sold a second larger tract to US Nitrogen for $851,251.38 on Oct. 24.
US Nitrogen subsequently sold that second parcel for $550,000, a nearly $300,000 or 35 percent loss.
Friday, November 20, 2015
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
A two-day on site state inspection of the sprawling US Nitrogen facility in Mosheim Greene County turned up several violations of regulations but officials concluded it "generally appeared to be consistent" with multiple environmental permits.
The results of the mid-September inspection were posted recently on the state Department of Environmental Conservation website. US Nitrogen is required to file an action plan within 30 days with a proposed implementation schedule.
The state officials also noted that some items, such as records and equipment, were missing simply because the ammonium nitrate manufacturing facility is not yet in operation.
"Some pieces of equipment, such as cartridge filters were noted as missing from the process diagram," the seven-page report states, adding that available records were limited because the plant is "not yet in operation."
The report dated Oct. 29 was based on a visit conducted on Sept. 15 and 16.
Deficiencies cited include a lack of required data in stormwater runoff reports and a missing signage required under state permits.
Also cited was the need for flow monitors and some deficiencies in erosion preventon and sediment control with straw bales in disrepair. Some records retention requirements were "inconsistent" and for some needed verifications were missing, the report states.
They noted US Nitrogen did not yet have a needed industrial users permit from Mosheim.
But the report also cites positive findings
"Areas disturbed for installed pipelines generally appeared to be stabilized with vegetative cover," the report states, adding that "production areas appear to be largely complete."
And "rockcheck dams "appear to be properly installed."
The inspection team quoted US Nitrogen's Justin Freeark as stating that actual operations were expected to being in 2016.
A cooling tower was already operational and had been filled with water from the Old Knox Utility District a few days earlier, according to the report.