Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Excess Magnesium Reported Again in US Nitrogen Stormwater

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

For the second year in a row officials of US Nitrogen are reporting that storm water running off from its 500 acre Midway site has magnesium levels far in excess of national cutoff limitations.
In a letter and report to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, US Nitrogen Plant Manager Andrew Velo said the excessive levels were found at the same two monitoring sites as last year, but at slightly lower levels.
According to the report 5.54 milligrams per liter were recorded at one site while 10.6 milligrams per liter were recorded at the other. A year ago the levels at the same two sites were 6.44 milligrams per liter and 12.3 milligrams per liter respectively.
The national cutoff is .0636 milligrams per liter.
"We suspect the source of the magnesium detected in the storm water samples is from background concentrations, potential fertilizer application and from water flowing across rock," Velo wrote in the Aug. 26 letter to TDEC.
The data was included in an annual storm water monitoring report US Nitrogen has to file as a condition of its TDEC permits.
Velo's letter states that while the plant had begun operating, it does not use magnesium in any of its production operations.
The plant has shutdown temporarily following two incidents in which air pollution limits were apparently exceeded. The two incidents are  under investigation by state and federal regulators.
As they did a year ago, US Nitrogen officials noted that excess magnesium levels have been detected in the Nolichucky River.
Velo stated that the company has made efforts to  reduce the use of fertilizers as that may be a source of magnesium.
Contact: wfrochejr999@gmail.com

Monday, August 29, 2016

TDEC, EPA Probing US Nitrogen Incidents

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

Tennessee environmental officials say they are coordinating efforts with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate an apparent violation of pollution control regulations at the US Nitrogen plant in Greene County.
Eric Ward, spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation said today that state officials were coordinating with the regional EPA office to probe the release of nitrous oxide on Aug. 23.
A large orange cloud was clearly visible over the plant early that morning.
"We are currently investigating the matter," Ward said, adding "We have been in touch with EPA Region 4 regarding the incident and we will be coordinating with them throughout the investigation."
The release of nitrous oxide, apparently due to an equipment malfunction, is the third known event to occur as the company continues attempts to get its ammonium nitrate manufacturing facility in full operation
The company self reported earlier this month that it discovered in late July that it apparently violated state regulations by not having a scrubber in full operation during the startup efforts.
A US Nitrogen worker, meanwhile, suffered severe burns to his head in another recent incident at the $200 million facility.
That accident is being investigated by the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

US Nitrogen Seeks CO2 Permit Amendment

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

Even as three recent incidents remain under investigation, US Nitrogen is seeking state approval to amend the permit for its carbon dioxide production facility.
In a three-page letter and an 11-page attachment, the company is seeking to move the location of the carbon dioxide facility on its 500-acre site and to increase its output.
The application seeks approval for a 20 percent increase in the capacity for its evaporative cooler, boosting the output from 2,000 gallons per minute to 2,400 gallons per minute.
The application comes amid three incidents at the $200 million facility, one involving serious injury to an employee, who had to be sent by emergency aircraft to a Georgia medical facility specializing in the treatment of burns.
Pictures of the injured worker show his heavily bandaged face shortly after the incident earlier this month.
The matter is under investigation by the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
The other two incidents involve apparent problems in startup operations at the ammonium nitrate manufacturing facility.
The most recent incident, photographed by local residents, was the Aug. 23 release of an orange cloud, apparently nitrous oxide, that hung over the facility.
Records at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation state that the problem was reported by a "co-worker" and is under investigation.
The third incident was the self-reporting by the company of a violation of state air pollution regulations during the startup.
In the permit application submitted this week to TDEC for the carbon dioxide plant,  Andrew Velo, US Nitrogen's plant manager, said the proposed increase in the maximum water throughput "will have no effect on potential emissions from the evaporative cooler."
In addition the application seeks approval for the installation of an additional vent, which he said would not result in any increased emissions.
According to Velo's letter TDEC officials met with US Nitrogen's environmental consulting firm in late July to discuss the proposed amendments. Praxair, the company that will operate the carbon dioxide plant, participated in the meeting by phone, according to Velo's letter.
"When the US Nitrogen ammonia plant is operating and CO2 liquefaction facility is not operating, the valve in the interconnecting pipeline will be closed and the gas stream will be vented to the atmosphere," the letter states.

Friday, August 19, 2016

US Nitrogen Claims $30 Million Loss From Engineering Firm

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

US Nitrogen says that defective engineering by a Georgia firm caused five months delay in the start up of its $200 million Greene County ammonium nitrate plant and forced $30 million in repairs.
In an amended complaint filed this week in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, Ga. lawyers for US Nitrogen said the defects went beyond what they claimed when the suit was first filed in April.
In addition to the original claims that Weatherly, Inc. improperly designed foundations for two 35,000 pound compressors shipped from Argentina, the amended complaint cites improper soil testing on the 500 acre site, inadequate steel beams and improper design of storage tanks for the production of ammonium nitrate.
According to the 29-page complaint, the defects in the storage tank design were not discovered until after the original suit was filed and the company began using one of the tanks. The suit charges that Weatherly improperly included anchor bolts on the tanks and thermal expansion "caused cracks and other defects."
The suit charges Weatherly with breach of contract, professional negligence and negligent or fraudulent misrepresentation.
According to the complaint, US Nitrogen incurred $30 million in additional expenses in repairing the problems caused by Weatherly's deficient work.
The suit charges that the foundations for the 35,000 pound compressors were designed to hold 3,500 compressors and that both foundations failed on Jan. 4 of this year.
Subsequently, the complaint states, Weatherly proposed a "patchwork repair" that two outside engineering firms found deficient.
"Weatherly refused to make the necessary repairs," the complaint states.
Attorneys for Weatherly filed a response to the original complaint in which they denied US Nitrogen's charges, They have not yet responded to the amended complaint.
According to the complaint US Nitrogen paid Weatherly some $28 million under a contract signed on Feb. 16, 2012.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

US Nitrogen "Believes" It Didn't Violate Limit

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

US Nitrogen says it does not believe it exceeded air quality limits during its ongoing start up efforts, but cannot prove it based on the requirements in its permit.
US Nitrogen Plant Manager Andrew Velo told Tennessee environmental officials this week that despite the lack of required proof, "(W)e believe we did not exceed the daily average hourly emission rate of 3.42 pounds of nitrous oxide."
Velo made the disclosure in a three page letter responding to a request for further information from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
Velo's letter and the TDEC request stem from US Nitrogen's recent voluntary disclosure that it violated state pollution control regulations during the start up of its ammonia production plant in Midway. The company blamed the violation on an apparent misinterpretation of state requirements for the use of Selective Catalytic Reduction  equipment during a startup.
A subsidiary of Ohio based Austin Powder, US Nitrogen is gearing up to produce ammonium nitrate which the parent company will utilize in the production of explosives.
In his Tuesday letter to TDEC, Velo wrote that based on the specifications of the ammonia production facility, he concluded that the nitrous oxide emissions were no higher than 2.67 pounds per hour, "well below the 3.42 pound limit."
According to the letter only one of two ammonia production systems have been in operation and the company did not produce any commercially viable ammonia prior to June 19.
The state asked for the additional information to determine whether US Nitrogen could qualify for an exemption from any fines or penalties due to the violation.
Velo reported the violation in an Aug 3 letter to the agency.
"I write to voluntarily disclose a violation of Tennessee environmental regulations," Velo stated in the five-page letter.
He said that the company discovered the violations during a late July compliance review with US Nitrogen's consulting firm, EnSafe.
The discovery came shortly after TDEC inspectors had completed a nearly three week inspection of US Nitrogen's Midway complex.
A subsequent inspection report listed multiple violations but concluded that the company was generally operating within its permit requirements.
US Nitrogen subsequently submitted a 21-page action plan responding to each of the inspection findings.
That action plan calls for training and retraining of company employees on record keeping and other requirements, reseeding of eroded areas on the site and replacement or repair of equipment. The company also said it would be performing its own onsite acidity tests  on water being discharged to the Nolichucky River. Previously the task was outsourced.
In another related development US Nitrogen reported that during the month of July it pumped nearly two million gallons of water from the Nolichucky River. It discharged about a quarter of that total into the river during the same period.
A subsidiary of Ohio based Austin Powder, US Nitrogen is gearing up to produce ammonium nitrate which the parent company will utilize in the production of explosives.
Contact: wfrochejr999@gmail.com

Monday, August 15, 2016

US Nitrogen Could Still Face Fine

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

Tennessee environmental officials now say they have yet to determine whether US Nitrogen will have to pay a fine or face other penalties after admitting to a violation of air pollution requirements.
Eric Ward, spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said today that he misspoke when he stated last week that the company would not be fined.
He said his agency was now conducting a review to determine if, because it self reported the violation, US Nitrogen would be exempt from any fine.
Ward said US Nitrogen has been asked to provide additional information so that TDEC can make that determination.
TDEC also released a two-page response to US Nitrogen's Aug. 3 disclosure of the violation.
"The Division of Air Pollution Control is reviewing this submission and has determined that additional information is needed to verify whether TDEC's Policy Encouraging Self-Policing and Voluntary Correction dated Nov. 17, 2011, applies," the letter states.
In the Aug. 3 letter to TDEC, US Nitrogen plant manager Andrew Velo disclosed that company officials only realized recently for the first time that state rules required the use of  Selective Catalytic Reduction equipment during a start up of its Anhydrous Ammonia Production plant.
Velo said language in the state regulations made it ambiguous whether the equipment was needed during start up.
In the response to Velo, Michelle W. Owenby, technical secretary to the Tennessee Air Pollution Control Board, agreed that the language "could be interpreted to require the operation of the SCR during any and all periods of operation of the ammonia plant."
"We agree that the condition is ambiguous and should be revised to clearly articulate specific emission limitations and compliance methods relative to the operation of the ammonia plant." she wrote.
She added that in response to US Nitrogen's request, the agency was drawing up an amendment to US Nitrogen's permit "to reflect these necessary clarifications."
In the meantime she stated that US Nitrogen could operate the plant without SCR equipment as long as it limited the operation to specified limits. Once those limits are exceeded, she wrote, "the SCR must begin and remain in operation."
Contact: wfrochejr999@gmail.com

Sunday, August 14, 2016

US Nitrogen Worker Recuperating

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

The 36-year old US Nitrogen worker who was badly burned in an incident at the Greene County facility last week is recuperating at home after being airlifted to Augusta, GA for surgery.
Though the victim and his family did not immediately respond to requests for comment, postings on social media and emails from friends show he was injured on Aug. 4 and was  airlifted late in the day to Augusta where he underwent surgery the following day. Treatment included skin grafts to the face and arm.
He was in the intensive care unit and on a respirator following the surgery, but was released from the hospital on Saturday.
US Nitrogen officials have not responded to requests for comment.
Officials of the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development have stated that they are investigating the incident. It was reported to the state on Aug. 9.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Worker Injury At US Nitrogen Probed by State

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

Officials of the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development say they are investigating the injury of a worker at the US Nitrogen plant in Greene County.
Jennifer Farrar, a spokeswoman for the department's occupational safety division said the injury occurred Aug. 4 and was reported to the state by the company on Tuesday.
Farrar said her agency could not comment on the nature of the injuries or the condition of the victim.
US Nitrogen did not respond to requests for comment, nor did company spokeswoman Amanda Jennings.
According to some accounts the unidentified worker was badly burned.
The $200 million ammonium nitrate manufacturing facility has been gearing up for full operation for several months. Official start-up notices for various phases of the operation have been reported to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
The company also recently self reported to TDEC a violation of air pollution rules that require pollution control devices to be in operation.
Contact: wfrochejr999@gmail.com

TN Group Homes Financed By Partner's Board

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

An affiliate of Tennessee' s largest provider of group homes for disabled residents has obtained tax free bond financing through a public board on which one of its business partners sits.
A $20 million bond issue approved by the Health and Educational Facilities Board of Nashville and Davidson County is being used  to construct eight group homes for current residents of the Greene Valley Development Center, a state facility under a federal court closure order.
The same bond issue, approved by the Nashville board on May 30, will be used to refinance the debt on facilities providing care to 256 disabled patients.
Sitting on the Nashville board is Richard "Dick" Brown, an attorney and former employee of the state agency providing care to the physically and intellectually disabled.
The bond issue was issued in the name of the WCO AL DP, the non-profit that owns group homes run by the Open Arms Care Corp, another non-profit. But the contract to operate the homes, including the eight new ones, is a for-profit firm called Integra Resources.
Integra is owned, in turn, by the SMI Group and Flatrock Investors. Flatrock is owned by Brown and Joseph Torrence.
Minutes of the May 30 meeting of the Nashville board show that Brown was present for the meeting and was involved in a discussion about the bond issue but recused himself from the vote.
"Mr. Brown then provided information on the services provided at the proposed facilities and an historical overview of the closing of the State of Tennessee's institutional facilities," the minutes state.
"Mr Brown described his consulting and management role with WCO and his involvement in the proposed financing," the minutes continue.
Brown said in an email response to questions that he participated in the discussion at the board's request "given my experience with facilities for intellectually disabled individuals over a career of thirty plus years and my current position as an executive with Integra Resources, which is now manager of Open Arms Care."
Though Brown said he disclosed his own personal financial interest to his fellow Nashville board members, he did not do so during meetings with other county boards whose approval was needed because Open Arms facilities are located in those jurisdictions.
"Because none of these bodies had a financial interest in the bond financing and I am not a member of any of them, I did not make a disclosure of financial conflict of interest at those meetings," Brown said, adding that he accompanied the bond counsel at those meetings in Hamilton, Shelby, Greene and Williamson Counties.
He said he only actually spoke at one of those meetings to answer a question.
Minutes of the Hamilton County Commissioners March 30 meeting note Brown's presence, along with an attorney for Open Arms.
The commission voted its approval of the bond issue at a subsequent meeting.
In Greene County records show the  commissioners were told the refinancing was being requested "to obtain lower interest costs."
Brown said in response to questions that he consulted with legal counsel to ensure that his actions complied with state ethics statutes.
"I did have legal advice from the board attorney, bond attorney and Integra Resources counsel on the applicable conflict of interest requirement and followed it as described," he wrote.
 Technically, Brown added, the only direct beneficiary of the bond issue was WCO AL DP, the nonprofit that owns the facilities, but he acknowledged that Open Arms and Integra "will benefit from the use of the facilities to provide the services requested and required by the State of Tennessee."
He said the Nashville board was the logical choice to seek funding since the same board provided funding to Open Arms Care in 1998.
Records show the bonds issued by the Nashville board were purchased in a private sale by Facilities Funding Group. Facilities Funding, state records show, is located in Brown's Nashville office. He is listed on state records as resident agent for the corporation.
Contact: wfrochejr999@gmail.com

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

US Nitrogen Won't Be Fined for Violation

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

Tennessee environmental officials say that US Nitrogen won't be fined for violating air pollution control rules during the startup of its Greene County ammonium nitrate manufacturing facility.
Eric Ward, spokesman for the state Department of Environment and Conservation, said today that agency officials were preparing a response to the company's voluntary report on its failure to use Selective Catalytic Reduction equipment while attempting to start up the ammonia plant on its Midway property.
"We are in the process of drafting a response letter that will address revising the compliance method for the SCR," Ward  wrote in an email response to questions. "No penalties will be assessed."
"We will continue to allow the source to operate as long as it continues to be in compliance with its permit," he continued, adding that the company admitted to a violation of a compliance method and not a violation of its permit.
In a letter sent to TDEC last week, US Nitrogen Plant Manager Andrew Velo wrote that the violation was discovered in late July during a two day session between US Nitrogen officials and EnSafe, an environmental consulting firm.
Velo said in the letter that due to a misinterpretation of state requirements on when SCR equipment must be in use. The equipment is used to monitor nitrous oxide emissions.
"During a recent internal compliance review, it became apparent that US Nitrogen's interpretation with regard to SCR operation during plant startup periods was incorrect," Velo wrote.
Contact: wfrochejr999@gmail.com

Sunday, August 7, 2016

US Nitrogen Violated Air Rules in Startup

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

Officials of US Nitrogen have informed Tennessee environmental officials that they discovered in late July that they violated environmental regulations during startup procedures for an ammonia plant at its Midway complex.
In an Aug 3 letter to officials of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, plant manager Andrew Velo said the violation was discovered during a late July two day review of the plant's compliance with officials from an environmental consulting firm, EnSafe.
"I write to voluntarily disclose a violation of Tennessee environmental regulations," Velo wrote in the five-page letter to TDEC's air pollution control division.
The violation, according to Velo's letter, occurred due to a misinterpretation of rules regarding the use of Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) equipment during the startup of the ammonia plant and what constituted "full operation."
US Nitrogen and its spokeswoman did not immediately respond Sunday to requests for comment on the disclosure and whether the violation might delay the plant's full startup.
SCR equipment, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is utilized to monitor and control nitrous oxide emissions.
"During a recent internal compliance review, it became apparent that US Nitrogen's interpretation with regard to SCR operation during plant startup periods was incorrect."
He added that "during certain periods of our repeated attempts to start up and continuously operate our ammonia plant, the SCR was not fully operational."
Velo added that due to the requirement an amendment to US Nitrogen's existing permit may be necessary.
Contending that "there is some ambiguity in the regulations," Velo said that the company was now voluntarily disclosing the violation.
"The violation was not discovered through a legally mandated activity prescribed by statute, regulation, permit, judicial or administrative order or consent agreement," the Velo wrote, adding that the company disclosed the violation promptly or within 21 days.
"US Nitrogen plans to work with the (TDEC) division to determine if the appropriate actions can be completed within 60 days as required or if the remedial efforts will require more than 60 days," he wrote.
Velo added that "US Nitrogen agrees to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent a recurrence of this violation."
The disclosure comes a little over a month after TDEC officials completed a lengthy review of US Nitrogen's compliance with its multiple permits. The inspection report cited multiple violations but concluded that the facility was generally meeting requirements.
Contact: wfrochejr999@gmail.com

Friday, August 5, 2016

Appeal Denied In USN Permit Suit

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

A Davidson Chancery Court Judge Friday turned down an appeal of a decision dismissing a legal challenge to a state permit for a 12-mile pipeline to the Nolichucky River in eastern Tennessee.
Judge Claudia Bonnyman turned down the appeal following a morning hearing in her Nashville courtoom.
The appeal was filed in behalf of six residents who own property along the Nolichucky. They had charged that the Tennessee Department of Transportation exceeded its authority when it granted a permit allowing the pipeline to be installed along the rights of way of two state highways.
Attorneys for US Nitrogen, TDOT and the Industrial Development Board of Greeneville and Greene County argued that the landowners lacked the legal standing to challenge the permit. Bonnyman agreed.
The pipeline already is in use with millions of gallons of river water being pumped to and from the river to the new $200 million manufacturing facility of US Nitrogen in Mosheim.
Bonnyman's decision means her May 5 decision dismissing the suit will stand barring a successful appeal to a higher court.
The suit is one of several legal challenges to the pipeline and the US Nitrogen project. None so far have been successful and officials at the ammonium nitrate plant have filed formal startup notices with the state.
Contact: wfrochejr999@gmail.com

Thursday, August 4, 2016

US Nitrogen, IDB Challenge Court Appeal

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

The Greene County industrial board and US Nitrogen are asking a Nashville judge to reject the appeal filed in behalf of local residents challenging the legality of a state permit allowing construction of a 12-mile pipeline to the Nolichucky River.
In a 13-page joint filing in Davidson Chancery Court lawyers for the county agency and US Nitrogen are charging that the area residents are simply repeating the arguments already rejected by Judge Claudia Bonnyman.
The filing comes before a hearing in Bonnyman's courtroom scheduled for tomorrow.The suit challenges the legality of a permit issued by the Tennessee Department of Transportation authorizing construction of the pipeline along the rights of way of state highways.
Citing Bonnyman's May 5 decision to dismiss the suit, the filing states, "The court did not make any errors in its order and the court was correct in ruling that petitioners lack standing to bring their claims."
The suit was filed by six residents who own property along the Nolichucky River; Ann Calfee, Don Bible, Jack Renner, Jeremiah Cluesman, Ruth Dolin and Rubin Stone. The pipeline goes from US Nitrogen's $200 million ammonium nitrate manufacturing facility in Mosheim to the Nolichucky River.
The six contend TDOT did not have the authority to grant such a permit to a private company which is not a public utility. They also contend the pipeline has negatively impacted their properties.
The Industrial Development Board of Greeneville and Greene County and US Nitrogen, however, argue that the pipeline has already been in operation for six months and has caused no damage.
"Petitioners cannot point to any harm or injury caused by their use during the last half year," the joint filing states.
"With only hypothetical injuries and no adverse effects, petitioners cannot establish standing," the motion states.
The two also charge that the appeal filed by Nashville attorney Elizabeth L. Murphy improperly raises a new argument: that "their ability to farm and use their farmland is affected by the pipelines."
"A motion to alter or amend is not a proper mechanism to present new arguments and theories based on the same facts," the filing continues.
The motion also cites the fact that Bonnyman concluded that the the plaintiffs did not meet any of the three requirements to establish standing.

Monday, August 1, 2016

New US Nitrogen Permit Concerns May Be too Late

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

A representative of the Sierra Club has written to state officials warning that the review of the potential impact of the US Nitrogen project on the Nolichucky River and its marine life has been rushed and inadequate.
The objections were contained in a two-page letter from Scott Banbury of the Sierra Club to officials of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), but the letter was filed a day after the deadline for comment on a proposed permit renewal.
Banbury wrote that the project should be subjected to a "full anti-degradation" analysis and questioned the conclusion of state officials that pumping 1.8 million gallons of water per day would have a "de minimis" effect on the waterway.
"We continue to object to the term de minimis," Banbury wrote, adding that ammonia from the discharge "may be lethal to protected species and natural population of mussels and other aquatic species.
He said there was not sufficient data to justify a "de minimis" finding.
TDEC officials did not immediately respond when asked whether Banbury's comments would be considered even though he missed the deadline for commenting on the proposed five year permit renewal.
Banbury said that he missed the deadline because he was on the Appalachian Trail and could not transmit his letter of objections.
The state agency already has given notice that it intends to renew the permit that allows US Nitrogen to pump 1.8 million gallons of water a day into the eastern Tennessee river.
But Banbury said that because of the lack of data and the fact that the ammonium nitrate plant is yet to go into full operation, the application should be considered a new request and not a renewal. A new permit, he added, would require more in depth scrutiny.
In addition the Sierra Club representative said the proposed limits on nutrients that will be discharged into the river were inadequate. Sulfates, for instance, he said would be potentially toxic.
"The draft (permit) does not adequately address the impact of increased nutrient loading on fish and other aquatic life," Banbury stated.
He asked that the permit in its current form be denied.
Dozens of other Greene County and area residents filed their objections to the permit renewal prior to the July 25 deadline.