Wednesday, December 30, 2015
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
US Nitrogen has submitted a proposed amendment to one of its environmental permits that would allow the company to vastly increase the amount of nitrous oxide it can emit from its yet-to-open Midway operations.
The application, which was submitted to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), calls for an increase in allowable emissions from .01 to .035 pounds per million British Thermal Units for nitrous oxides and smaller hikes in greenhouse gases, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds (VOC).
In a statement released in response to questions about the amendments, US Nitrogen said that the higher emission levels are still within limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and TDEC.
"US Nitrogen has equipment and processes in place to minimize emissions," the company statement reads, citing an "ultra low nitrous oxide burner and flue gas recirculation in its industrial boilers."
The proposed amendment comes as the company nears a scheduled 2016 start up of operations for the $200 million ammonium nitrate manufacturing facility.
The permit application notes that the amendment would also reduce the annual amount of natural gas used to fire its boiler from 470 to 380 million cubic feet.
According to the application, the amendment would increase nitrous oxide emissions by less than five tons per year.
The revised permit would also cover the operation of flares used to control emissions during shutdown and startup operations.
In addition to the ammonium nitrate production operations the permit applies to a nitric acid plant, a carbon dioxide liquefaction plant and a fuel dispensing facility, according to the public notice of the application.
TDEC, in a recently published public notice, asked interested parties to comment on the application.
In its statement US Nitrogen attributed the changes to "more detailed engineering being conducted on the plant as construction is concluded."
Saturday, December 26, 2015
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
Tennessee environmental officials have dismissed a Dec. 7 complaint about a crane partially submerged in the Nolichucky River after having a telephone conversation with US Nitrogen officials.
Records of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation show that on Dec. 7 an unnamed resident called the agency to express concern about a crane that was partially submerged in overflow from the Nolichucky after heavy rainfall.
According to the department records an agency official then contacted US Nitrogen officials Hollie Binkley and Lori Jones.
According to the records, US Nitrogen officials "stated that the highest water level reached was approximately two-thirds the height of the crane's tires.
"The crane was on wheels, not greased tracks; the housing was never encroached," the brief report continues.
The report adds that the crane was subsequently removed and returned to its owner, C & C Millwright.
The report concluded stating that an inspection of the crane "verified that there were no leaks or releases from this equipment."
The heading on the report states: "Status: No problem found."
Pictures of the partially submerged crane are posted on the website of Save The Nolichucky, a group opposed to the US Nitrogen project.
Wednesday, December 23, 2015
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
US Nitrogen today formally announced the appointment of a new manager for the new $200 million ammonium nitrate manufacturing facility slated to open next month.
Jim Boldt, chief financial officer for Austin Powder, US Nitrogen's parent, said Andrew Velo has taken over the job of plant manager from Justin Freark, who is taking on a new role with the parent company.
Stating that Velo "stood out for his exceptional leadership skills and attention to detail," Boldt said the firm would continue "its laser focus on safety."
Velo joined US Nitrogen in March as construction and maintenance manager. Prior to that he worked for Rentech Nitrogen Partners serving as site general manager at a fertilizer facility in Texas.
Velo, a Navy veteran, took on the plant manager's job on Nov. 3o.
Freeark, according to the company announcement, has been appointed as director of nitrogen engineering projects for Austin. He will continue to reside in Tennessee.
State environmental officials were informed of the leadership change in a Dec. 15 letter from Freeark.
The change comes as US Nitrogen officials say they are preparing for a January start of operations of the new facility.
Tuesday, December 22, 2015
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
With the expected startup just a month away, a new local manager has been named to oversee the operations of US Nitrogen.
In a letter to officials of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, US Nitrogen disclosed that Plant Manager Justin Freeark is being replaced by Andrew Velo, who previously held the title of Maintenance and Construction Manager.
In recent filings with the state, Velo is listed as "maintenance manager."
The brief Dec. 15 letter signed by Freeark himself, states that the change became effective Nov. 30 and that Velo is now the "responsible official" for state reporting purposes.
The change comes as the $200 million ammonium nitrate is being readied for a January opening.
Asked for comment Tuesday, Amanda Jennings, a US Nitrogen spokeswoman, said she would be releasing information on the management shift on Wednesday.
The letter dated Dec. 1 does not disclose what Freeark's future role will be. He has served as the chief manager for the new plant before construction actually began.
Previously he worked for US Nitrogen's parent company, Ohio based Austin Powder.
Recently Freeark's role in signing a land option agreement in behalf of US Nitrogen has been the source of controversy.
Freeark signed an agreement in 2013 giving US Nitrogen an option on land owned by a company headed by J.W. Douthat, a member of the Industrial Development Board of Greeneville and Greene County. That panel played a key role in bringing US Nitrogen to Greene County.
Douthat abstained on one board vote on US Nitrogen, but later voted in favor of submitting an application to the Tennessee Department of Transportation for a US Nitrogen pipeline plan.
Both Douthat and US Nitrogen have repeatedly insisted there was nothing improper in the arrangement. Recently a Greene County grand jury apparently declined to take any action on the matter following a presentation by Don Bible, a local resident opposed to the project.
Bible has cited the fact that Douthat also was a member of the board of the local utility district, which could have ended up as a major provider of water to US Nitrogen. Ultimately US Nitrogen abandoned plans to purchase millions of gallons of water per day from the utility district in favor of the current arrangement under which water is piped directly from the Nolichucky River via a 12-mile pipeline.
Sunday, December 20, 2015
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
A state agency is being asked to approve at least 14 new group homes to house the remaining residents of the state run Greene Valley Development Center, which is under a federal court closure order.
A review of applications pending before the state Health Department shows one provider alone, Open Arms Care, already the largest provider of services to the mentally and physically disabled in Tennessee, is seeking approval to build nine new facilities. Each would house four current residents of state run Greene Valley.
Under state law applicants for most new health facilities must seek approval from the state Health Department for a certificate of need as part of the licensing process.
The applications for those certificates show that none of the new facilities are expected to be completed by June 30, 2016, the date originally set for the complete closure of Greene Valley. In fact a state panel will only begin consideration of the applications next month.
Officials of the state Department of Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities, which runs Greene Valley, recently conceded that the June 30 shutdown date was unlikely to be met and funding would be necessary to keep Greene Valley in operation.
Cara Kumari, a DIDD spokeswoman, said that all of the beds in the pending applications are earmarked for specific current Greene Valley residents.
"These providers were chosen by people living at Greene Valley and their conservators," Kumari wrote in a written response to questions.
She said the agency set up fairs for entities willing to provide services so they could meet with families of Greeneville residents and interested parties and arrange agency tours "to ensure families had all the information they needed to make an informed decision."
"All of these beds have been currently claimed by a person leaving Greene Valley," Kumari added.
While June 30, 2016 was the agreed closing date under a federal court decree, the estimated opening dates, according to the pending applications stretch to November of 2016 and beyond.
In addition the number of beds sought in the pending applications falls short of the estimated 75 current Greene Valley residents who have opted to move to these four bed facilities. According to filings with the state health agency, 45 of the 75 have indicated they wish to remain in Greene County.
The estimated daily charges for each resident, according to the applications, are slightly under $800. That would mean an annual cost of nearly $300,000 for each of the 75 residents
In addition to Open Arms, a nonprofit incorporated in Georgia, applications have been submitted by D & S Residential, a Texas firm, and Sunrise Community of Tennessee, a subsidiary of a Florida firm.
While Sunrise does currently operate in Tennessee, D & S does not.
Open Arms is seeking approval to open three facilities in Greene County, four in Knoxville and two in Georgetown, Hamilton County.
Two of the Open Arms facilities would be located on East Church Lane in Greeneville and one on Chuckey Pike in Chuckey. However the application for the Chuckey Pike property contains legal documents relating to the Church Lane property.
The Georgetown homes are slated be located on Gamble Road, while the Knoxville homes will be built on Bishops Bridge Road and Northshore Drive.
Although Open Arms is a non profit, the application shows the management of their homes will be performed by a separate firm, Integra Resources LLC. Integra, which is not a non-profit, is owned by the SMI Group and Flatrock Investors.
SMI is owned by George Stevens and Jeffery Mastroleo, while Flatrock is owned by Joseph Torrence and Richard L. Brown, the application states.
Integra is the same company that bought 32 group homes from Open Arms in May of this year for $11.5 million, according to the application files.
Open Arms won't actually own the new homes either, but a separate non-profit will rent them.
Sunrise, meanwhile, has applied to open a four bed home at 680 Quaker Knob Road and 640 Old Shiloh Road in Chuckey
D & S is seeking to open homes on Erwin Highway in Afton and Old Stage Road in Greeneville.
PROPOSED HOME LOCATIONS
Open Arms Care Corp.
1817 Bishops Bridge Road Knoxville
12621 South Northshore Drive Knoxville
Chuckey Pike Chuckey
East Church Road Greeneville
Sunrise Community of Tennessee
680 Quaker Knob Road Chuckie
640 Old Shiloh Road
D & S Residential
2609 Erwin Highway Afton
2619 Erwin Highway Afton
Old Stage Road Greeneville
Monday, December 7, 2015
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
A Nashville nursing home is closing its doors voluntarily, while the state has put a freeze on any new admissions at a Limestone facility recently cited for multiple violations.
Closing by Dec. 15 is the Belcourt Terrace Nursing Home in Nashville, Tenn. which is licensed for 49 beds, but recently had only 23 residents.
Woody McMillin, a spokesman for the state Health Department said the closure was voluntary and the Belcourt staff were assisting patients and their families with finding other placement.
The facility is owned by an Ohio firm AHF/Central State Services. Company officials did not respond to a request for comment.
In a legal notice the home said it would be placing the state license on inactive status and would be withdrawing from the Medicare and Medicaid programs.
The home has a history of rules violations but recently received clearance on a long list of corrective actions.
The facility had been cited earlier this year for patients having developed bed sores and leaving patients in bed for extended periods of time during the day.
In Limestone state Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner has imposed a freeze on any new admissions to John M. Reed Health and Rehabilitation. He also fined the home $4,000 citing multiple violations of state and federal requirements.
The 63-bed nursing home in Limestone was inspected on Nov. 5 and cited for failure to provide basic services and failing to maintain proper medical records.
Dreyzehner also named an independent monitor to oversee the operation of the home.
Last week the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced it would not pay for any new patients admitted to the Reed facility.
CMS cited the same findings the state used to order a freeze on admissions.
Tuesday, December 1, 2015
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
Tennessee environmental officials confirmed today that an administrative extension was granted to US Nitrogen for a key wastewater discharge permit that was scheduled to expire Monday.
Eric Ward, a spokesman for the Department of Environment and Conservation, confirmed the extension of the permit authorizing the disposal of millions of gallons of wastewater to the Nolichucky River.
"Since the permittee submitted an application in a timely fashion and the permit was not reissued by its expiration date, discharges from the facility will be automatically authorized through administrative extension of the permit," Ward wrote in an email response to questions.
The permit was originally issued in 2014 and US Nitrogen submitted a renewal application on June 2, 2015.
The permit is a major component of US Nitrogen's plans to begin producing ammonium nitrate at its newly constructed Greene County facility.