Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Key US Nitrogen Job Changes Hands As Opening Looms

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.

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