Group asks court to stop construction on US Nitrogen pipeline based on Open Meetings violation

The Johnson City Press reports that a group of residents have asked for an injunction to halt construction of a water pipeline, saying a key approval to build it took place in violation of the Tennessee Open Meetings Act.

The pipeline would allow water to be drawn from the Nolichucky River and transported to a chemical plant in Greene County that is slated to make liquid ammonium nitrate, a component in industrial explosives. The water then would be treated and discharged back into the river.

The plant has been controversial and various residents have filed separate lawsuits trying to stop it. The lawsuits have a common theme, saying key government processes to aid the chemical plant to locate in Greene County have been done in secret and without proper public input. Allegations include at least two instances of potential violations of the state’s open meetings laws.

The first potential open meetings violation was when the Greene County Planning Commission approved changing the zoning for 400 acres from “General Agricultural” and “Industrial” to “Heavy Impact Use” without disclosing to the public the name or nature of the company that had requested the change. The company was revealed later as US Nitrogen, a subsidiary of Austin Powder Co.

The second potential violation was when the Industrial Development Board of Greeneville and Greene County met to approve a second application to the Tennessee Department of Transportation to gain right-of-way permits to build a water pipeline between US Nitrogen and the river. The first application had been denied on grounds that the pipeline would benefit only one company. Citizens argued that the industrial development board violated the Open Meetings Act when it held a meeting but citizens could not hear deliberations of board members. The board did not use microphones for example, and when a citizen asked the board to speak up so the audience could hear, police arrested him and charged him with disrupting a public meetings and resisting arrest. Charges were later dropped.

After TDOT approved the second application, construction on the pipeline began. A lawsuit against the Tennessee Department of Transportation is also pending in Davidson County.

You can read the full story by the Johnson City Press on the latest legal action. An excerpt is here:

The plaintiffs argued in the motion that the Industrial Development Board violated the Tennessee Open Meetings Act when it voted July 18 to go ahead with the plan. The group also claims the IDB lacks the authority under state law to construct and operate the system.

The motion asked the court to stop the IDB from taking any actions that were approved in the July 18 meeting until the court rules on the open meetings complaint and alleged violations of state law.

The project has been the subject of considerable controversy in the region, as activists have expressed concerns about the amount of ammonia that might be discharged into the river and the effects of the pollution over time.

Representatives of US Nitrogen and local industrial development agencies say the water discharged into the river — which will contain specified levels of ammonia up to that allowed by the permit — will not be a danger to the environment.



What do you think?