TDOT Consol: U.S. Nitrogen can’t access rights-of-way
State environmental officials have thrown a roadblock in U.S. Nitrogen’s plans to build 10 miles of water and effluent lines along state roadways between the plant in western Greene County and the Nolichucky River, but big questions remain unanswered on Saturday, officials say.
Sarah C. McBride, assistant general counsel with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, informed U.S. Nitrogen it couldn’t install the lines on state rights-of-way because they “would not provide any public services to the general community.”
McBride, who works for the TDOT regional office in Strawberry Plains, opined state law prohibits the use of public rights-of-way exclusively for private use.
Despite strong opposition from environmental groups, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation granted a permit for U.S. Nitrogen to discharge treated effluent into the Nolichucky, but the 10 miles separating the plant and the river are a problem.
Without the rights-of-way leading westward from Pottertown Road to the river, U.S. Nitrogen would have to purchase access across private property in a region where most property owners strongly oppose the plant to pipe the water and effluent to and from the river.
The $200 million U.S. Nitrogen plant is under construction and well over half the projected construction cost reportedly has already been spent.
The right-of-way-related announcement was unexpected to some, state Sen. Steve Southerland said Saturday.
Southerland says Greeneville officials were under the impression that the TDOT office in Nashville had given the go-ahead for U.S. Nitrogen to use the rights-of-way along state routes 340 and 348 in Greene County.
What’s unclear is whether Nashville’s approval – if it exists – would trump the legal opinion from the TDOT regional office in Strawberry Plains.
U.S. Nitrogen plans to remove about 1.4 million gallons of water per day from the river, use it primarily to operate three cooling towers, and then discharge the treated effluent back into the river.
The company initially indicated it planned to purchase water from the Old Knoxville Highway Utility District. The wastewater treatment plant in Mosheim was to treat the effluent, according to the original proposal.
The Old Knoxville Highway Utility District charges approximately $44 per 5,000 gallons of water, about four times the rate of Greeneville Water Commission.
When it came light that buying water from the small utility district could top $3 million per year, U.S. Nitrogen turned to an obvious and less costly alternative – water directly from the Nolichucky.
It’s also unclear whether the Mosheim wastewater treatment plant, which is at or near its permitted capacity, could treat the additional effluent from U.S. Nitrogen.
-By Robert Moore, Tribune Staff Writer