Thursday, June 30, 2016

Monday, June 20, 2016

Residents Write TDEC Opposing US Nitrogen Permit

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

Following a public hearing a dozen local residents have submitted written comments to the state urging an outright rejection or sharp limitations on a permit allowing the discharge of millions of gallons of water into the Nolichucky River.
The written comments to the state Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) follow a June 9 hearing in which nearly all speakers expressed opposition to the five year renewal of a permit to ammonium nitrate manufacturer US Nitrogen.
Attached to many of the letters is a response from TDEC official Vojin Janic in which he states flatly that granting the permit as proposed by his agency, will not pollute the river.
"The discharge will have no impact on the Nolichucky River or the groundwater in the area," Janic wrote in several responses.
Among those disagreeing with that conclusion was Dana Wright of the Tennessee Clean Water Network.
Stating that the permit does not address the effect the discharge will have on nutrients for fish and aquatic life, Wright wrote, "This analysis cannot support a finding of de minimis degradation with respect to fish and aquatic life."
Calling for further analysis by TDEC, Wright added, "The permit must ensure the protection of Tennessee's narrative nutrient criterion."
The letter raises concerns about the so-called mixing zones where the discharged water will meet the river and potentially impact aquatic life.
Wright noted that because of delays in the start of operations by US Nitrogen, sufficient data is not yet available to assess the impact.
Wright, like several others who submitted comments, urged the permit be limited to two years, not the five years recommended by TDEC.
Others submitting written comments include Katrina Brinkley of Midway, Melody Horton and Beth Foster.
"Please deny the permits in all areas for US Nitrogen," wrote Brinkley adding, "It's the right thing to do."
Foster wrote that granting a five year permit was not prudent when the plant hasn't even begun operations.
Barry Bales of Mosheim wrote that the state should not permit the pollution of the river "I was baptized in."
TDEC has extended the time for citizens to submit comments to July 25.

Friday, June 17, 2016

US Nitrogen Discharges 1.5 million Gallons to Nolichucky

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

US Nitrogen has reported to state environmental officials that it has discharged nearly 1.6 million gallons of water to the Nolichucky River through a controversial 12-mile pipeline.
The discharge report was dated June 15 and showed 806,400 gallons were discharged on May 24 and another 774,110 gallons were discharged the next day for a total of 1,580,510 gallons.
The report is the third to show large volumes of water withdrawn or discharged into the river.
According to the report the discharge was at the 20.8 mile marker on the river, the location of a pumping station operated by the company.
The report follows a lengthy public hearing held recently in Greeneville in which local residents testified against a proposed five year extension of the permit that enables the ammonium nitrate manufacturer to discharge water into the Nolichucky.
Officials of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation have announced that residents have until July 25 to submit written comments on the proposed permit extension.
US Nitrogen has not announced a date when it expects to begin full operations at the $200 million facility, but the monthly reports submitted to TDEC indicate a gradual increase in activity.
According to the company some, but not all of the water drawn from the river will be used for cooling towers needed in the production of ammonium nitrate. The ammonium nitrate will be shipped to US Nitrogen's parent company, Austin Powder, for use in the production of explosives.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Limited Permit Urged for US Nitrogen

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

A representative of an environmental group has recommended that Tennessee regulators limit to six months a renewed permit to discharge millions of gallons of wastewater into the Nolichucky River.
The proposal was offered Thursday in a lengthy public hearing on the five-year permit sought by US Nitrogen from the Department of Environment and Conservation.
One of more than a ten witnesses to testify at the Thursday session,Scott Banbury of the Sierra Club said limiting the permit to six months would give the state time to evaluate US Nitrogen's performance.
Under the permit the ammonium nitrate manufacturer would be allowed to pump several million gallons of water through a 12-mile pipeline to the Nolichucky.
US Nitrogen is in the process of gearing up for production at the $200 million Midway facility and reports filed with TDEC show millions of gallons of water already have been pumped from the river with most, but not all of it later returned.
Some of those who attended the meeting said they hoped TDEC officials would consider the alternative offered by Banbury.
US Nitrogen representatives, including attorney Michael Stagg urged approval of the five year permit.
In announcing the permit application, TDEC officials indicated they already were in favor of granting it. The public hearing was scheduled after some 14 area residents contacted the state agency and requested an opportunity to testify.
Ann Calfee, who attended the session, said Banbury also suggested that a meter be installed to measure the river flow at the point of out-take and intake.
"I don't think TDEC will change their mind," Calfee said, "but I hope they consider a six month extension instead of a five year extension to see how US Nitrogen does."
Among those to testify against the permit was local resident Park Overall, who warned of pollution of the river and said, "We don't have the water to give them."
"Your governor is playing God with your river and no one can tell you there is enough water for this industry."
Attending the session, but not testifying was landowner Don Bible who gave out copies of a statement he composed on the history of the US Nitrogen project and his efforts to have a Greene County grand jury investigate the votes that made it possible.
In the statement Bible said he believed giving testimony would only be an exercise in futility since state officials had already made up their minds to grant the permit.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

US Nitrogen Permit Hearing On Tap Tomorrow

By Walter F. Roche

Opponents of the US Nitrogen project in Greene County are hoping for a large turnout tomorrow (Thursday) for a public hearing on a key permit for the soon-to-open project, but they are doubtful their testimony will change the expected outcome.
Officials of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation already have given notice that they intend to grant US Nitrogen a five year extension on a permit that allows them to pump wastewater into the Nolichucky River via a 12-mile pipeline.
Ann Calfee, one of the landowners who has filed suit in an attempt to halt the project, said she plans to attend and expects a large turnout at the Friday session.
 "I don't think TDEC will change its mind about the permit," Calfee said, adding,"I hope there is a big turnout. The more the better."
US Nitrogen officials did not respond when asked if they intended to attend or make a presentation at the session.
TDEC, in announcing the hearing at the West Greene High School, disclosed that it will begin at 6 p.m. with a one hour question and answer session. The actual hearing with testimony from the public and interested parties is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Interested parties will have 10 days following the hearing to submit written testimony.
Don Bible, another local landowner who joined in the same suit with Calfee, said he does not plan to testify but will distribute a public statement detailing the history of the project and the reasons for his opposition.
Others expected to testify include Park Overall, who has been a vocal opponent of the plant which will produce tons of ammonium nitrate to be used in the production of explosives by US Nitrogen's corporate parent, Austin Powder.
TDEC scheduled the hearing after more than a dozen area residents filed notice that they wanted action delayed so that a public hearing could be held.
Under the permit US Nitrogen will be allowed to discharge millions of gallons of water per day into the Nolichucky.
In a related development TDEC officials are in the process of doing an on-site review at US Nitrogen's Midway facility for another pending permit application regarding stormwater runoff. The ongoing review was disclosed in a recent posting on the TDEC website.
"Inspection begun by BBC and JTBe on 6/2/2016. Not yet completed. Facility still not yet fully operational," the posting states.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Land Owners Seek Reconsideration in USN Suit

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

A group of Eastern Tennessee landowners along the Nolichucky River are asking a Davidson County judge to reconsider her dismissal of a suit challenging the legality of a state permit for a 12-mile pipeline for the use of US Nitrogen.
In a 10-page petition filed this week the property owners disputed the conclusion of Davidson Chancery Judge Claudia Bonnyman that they lacked legal standing to challenge the permit issued by the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
Plaintiffs "adequately alleged legally recognized injuries" caused solely by the route dictated by the TDOT permit,  the petition states.
The suit was filed some 17 months ago in behalf of Ann Calfee, Don Bible, Jack Renner, Jeremiah Cluesman, Ruth Dolin and Reuben Stone, residents of Greene and Cocke counties.
In the formal ruling issued in early May, Bonnyman had concluded that the six plaintiffs failed to meet any of the three requirements necessary to challenge the permit.
Elizabeth Murphy, the attorney for the landowners, however disputed Bonnyman's conclusion that "anyone on the river could suffer the same injuries to water quality."
In fact, the petition states, the pipeline, because of its location, presents "a clear and palpable injury" to the plaintiffs.
She noted the discharge point is immediately adjacent to the properties and is located at an atypically shallow point where the river water is onlly ankle deep. In addition she wrote that plowing of land by Renner and Bible over the pipelines filled with chemical waste "is a risk for these farmers."
 The petition also cites the negative effect of the pipeline on land values.
The motion for reconsideration is scheduled for a hearing in Nashville on July 1.
The filing comes just days before a June 9 hearing on a separate but related state permit for the US Nitrogen project.
The hearing called by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is on the proposed renewal of the permit allowing US Nitrogen to discharge millions of gallons of water per week into the Nolichucky.
The hearing will be held Thursday at the West Greene High School. From 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. residents will be able to ask questions and formal testimony will begin at 7 p.m.
Bible and other opponents of the project plan to attend and voice their concerns.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Austin Powder Fatal Explosion Anniversary


Residents of McArthur and Zaleski thought they had heard a sonic boom.
After the blast rumbled through the hills, news of a deadly explosion traveled just as quickly to the rest of Vinton County.
Cars pulled off on Route 677, first a few, then enough to form a long line down the highway. Most were anxious spouses of employees hoping for relief, dreading news of tragedy.
Fifty years ago, the news was this: On Friday, June 3, 1966, five men were killed in an explosion at Austin Powder Company’s Red Diamond Plant. The explosion took place inside a gelatin mix house just after the crew arrived to work at 7 a.m.
The two-story building was described in news reports as being “isolated ... behind one of the hills on the grounds.” It was completely demolished, the blast leaving behind a large hole where it once stood. Debris reportedly scattered 500 feet throughout the landscape.
Those dead included:
  • Arvin Caudill, 30, of Creola. Born in Kentucky, Caudill was survived by his wife and three children. He is buried in Elk Cemetery.
  • Glen Pendleton, 35, of Radcliff. He was survived by his wife and five children and is buried in Radcliff Cemetery.
  • Duane Lowe, 35, of Athens. He was survived by a wife and three children. A Radcliff native, funeral services were held there and he is buried in Radcliff Cemetery.
  • Oliver Risner, 46, of McArthur. A veteran of World War II, Risner also served as secretary of the McArthur Aerie, Fraternal Order of Eagles. He was survived by a wife and three children and is buried in Elk Cemetery.
  • Pearley Seymour, 26, of Dundas. He was survived by a wife and daughter and is buried in Elk Cemetery.
  • All funeral services were held by the Wrightsel Funeral Company, of McArthur.
Risner’s son, Jeffrey, was employed at the time as newspaper delivery boy for the Democrat-Enquirer as well as for its competitor, the McArthur Republican Tribune.
“Despite this horrible tragedy, I didn’t miss a delivery,” he said.
Incidentally, Jeffrey Risner said he later worked at Austin Powder himself as an environmental scientist.
Most of the 1966 victims were reported as veteran employees of the explosives company. They averaged nearly 11 years of experience at Austin Powder.
In the months prior to the accident, Red Diamond had been preparing for a sizable expansion announced earlier in the year. Plant Manager John Salts spearheaded the project, which was designed to highlight technological improvements and modernize the complex.
The summer of 1966 instead harkened back to previous accidents at Red Diamond and perhaps further than that, given Vinton County’s industrial history and gritty natural resource labor. Some of these stories have become lasting folk tales, known to thrill seekers as the haunting Moonville brakeman and the iron workers killed at Hope Furnace.
As for Austin Powder, the Red Diamond plant opened in 1931 (the company itself was formed in 1883). The first major incident came 15 years later, when an explosion killed E.E. Wills, John Timms and Ernest Perry in 1946. Two more men were killed in 1954, Ralph Hutchinson and James Ross Jr.
By the mid-1960s, Red Diamond was one of seven Austin Powder sites, with 250 employees spread out within 1,100 acres off Route 677.
The Athens Messenger profiled Red Diamond in 1970, with Salts defending the plant’s safety record.
“We don’t have many accidents, but when we do it’s a big one and it gets lots of publicity,” he said. “We have a lot better safety record than other industries, such as the steel industry.”
Years passed until a female employee was killed in another explosion in December 1975. She became the 11th work-related fatality in the plant’s 34-year history.
Between her death and March 1976, hundreds of other employees combined to work 100,000 “man hours” without a lost-time accident, earning Red Diamond an industry safety award.
Then tragedy struck again a year later. An explosion in December 1977 killed three men: David Jarvis, 26, of Wellston; Roger Ervin, 26, of Wellston; and Steve McVey, 22, of Albany.
In the decades since, Red Diamond has played an important economic role in Vinton County.
In 2013, Austin Powder announced a $16.8 million expansion at Red Diamond. Plant Manager Keith Mills called it a “vote of confidence” that “secures the Red Diamond facility” (in Vinton County). A year later, the company donated $7,000 to the Vinton County Sheriff’s Office when Canine Dooley retired to help pay for training a new canine officer. Austin Powder was honored as the 2014 Wild Turkey Festival’s Parade Grand Marshal.
The economic influence of Austin Powder continues to grow, just as the legacy of those killed in Red Diamond’s earlier operations lives on.
The incident was “a tragedy which staggered all of Vinton County,” Gerry Frye wrote after the 1966 explosion. “If it is any comfort, Vinton Countians are praying for the five men whose lives ended so abruptly Friday.”