Opponents of river plan attend rally
Opposition to the proposed U.S. Nitrogen plant in Greene County using the Nolichucky River as both a source of water and a discharge point for processed water that will contain contaminants met at the Nolichucky Vineyard.
Unfocused opposition will not stop the plan, an environmental lawyer told the group.
Brian Paddock, lead counsel for the state Sierra Club, told a group comprised primarily of U.S. Nitrogen opponents that killing or delaying Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation permits requires raising legal arguments that could form the basis of a court challenge.
The current deadline for submitting comments to TDEC is May 1. Paddock said Thursday he plans to seek a 30-day extension of the comment period.
In order to proceed as planned, U.S. Nitrogen will require national pollutant discharge permits for the Nolichucky and a tributary, as well as an aquatic resource alteration permit that would allow construction of the intake and discharge facilities on the river.
In order to move forward with the plant, which will manufacture a liquid component of an explosive used in mining, U.S. Nitrogen also must get TDEC approval of an environmental-impact plan, which has yet to be drafted, according to Paddock.
U.S. Nitrogen initially indicated it planned to purchase water from the Old Knoxville Highway Utility District in Greene County, then discharge the waste cooling water, along with treated process water, which will include nitric acid, ammonia and ammonium nitrate, into the sewer system, according to Paddock.
The permit application U.S. Nitrogen submitted to TDEC calls for taking approximately 1.4 million gallons of water daily from the Nolichucky and about 570,000 in surplus water to the river.
Opponents of the plant maintain the pollutants will impact sensitive agricultural land along the Nolichucky, including a vineyard; taint groundwater in an area where many rely on wells for drinking water; and threaten the health and viability of the waterway.
U.S. Nitrogen represents the concentration of the chemicals in the process water will be below Environmental Protection Agency-established concentrations before the treated water is returned to the Nolichucky.
U.S. Nitrogen’s access to affordable water appears to be an important issue that hasn’t received much attention thus far.
The Old Knoxville Highway Utility District, like many utilities in rural, sparsely populated areas of Tennessee has higher-than-average water-usage charges.
The rates charged by Old Knox however, are on the high end of the most expensive water in the state, according to a 2010 rate survey compiled by the Allen & Hoshall engineering firm.
Old Knox customers pay approximately $44.30 for 5,000 gallons of water, according to an Old Knox representative. That’s about four times higher than Greeneville Water Commission, according the rate survey.
If U.S. Nitrogen uses 1.4 million gallons of water each day, that would put their daily water bill at about $12,400 per day, or about $3.2 million a year.
Old Knox currently offers no discounts to high-use customers, the utility representative said.
The $3.2 million total does not include treating the process water, laying the lines from the plant to the river or construction of the intake and discharge facilities on the Nolichucky..
Park Overall, a Greene County environmental activist, claims U.S. Nitrogen plans to use 2.8 million gallons of water per day, but even at half the amount, total water costs would be staggering.
Overall and other opponents of the U.S. Nitrogen plant appear to be intent on using any means possible to scuttle or delay the plans, and they have other tools at their disposal, officials say.
Paddock says American Indian relics have been unearthed on the 500-acre proposed construction site in Mosheim.
Also, endangered species of mussels live on the stretch of the Nolichucky that could be impacted by chemicals discharges, according to Paddock.
The epicenter of opposition to the manufacturing facility thus far has been in Greene County.
The Nolichucky River runs through more than 40 miles of Cocke and Hamblen counties, and empties into Douglas Lake in Jefferson County.
One argument advanced in opposition to U.S. Nitrogen is that taking tens of millions of gallons of water from the Nolichucky could disrupt the water flow, especially in times of drought.
U.S. Nitrogen has represented it will require about one-half of 1 percent of the river volume, and will return more than third of that amount to the Nolichucky.
However, the Old Knoxville Highway Utility District gets its water from the Greeneville Water Commission, which takes its water from the Nolichucky River, which undermines the argument the river can’t support the company’s needs.
-By Robert Moore, Tribune Staff Writer