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'It's being built on our water supply' | Morgan County residents claim runoff from Rivian site falling into creeks

On Nov 25, Ocmulgee Superior Courts Judge, Stephen Bradley denies a temporary protective order to halt construction of the development

MORGAN COUNTY, Ga. — Morgan County residents are claiming the 2,000-acre Rivian development is causing more trouble to the property surrounding the site. 

Earlier this week, residents from Morgan County sent 11Alive's Doug Richards, drone footage allegedly showing runoff and sedimentation from the Rivian plant seeping into neighboring creeks over the Thanksgiving weekend.

These claims come after the Nov. 25 court ruling by Ocmulgee Superior Courts Judge Stephen Bradley to deny a Temporary Protective Order that was aimed to halt the construction of the electric vehicle plant after residents claimed the development posed environmental issues.

In early November, Edward Clay told 11Alive that the water filter at his house turned alarmingly brown "about two weeks after they broke ground."

“While they have presented some evidence of harm to their property, that evidence does not rise to the level of a substantial threat to irreparable injury," Judge Bradley said in the court documents.

In response to Clay's claims, officials at the State Department of Economic Development wrote on behalf of the state and the local Joint Development Authority to dispute these claims. 

“A hydro-geological expert testified in court last week that there is no conceivable way silt could travel from the site property through the groundwater into the wells of the one plaintiff who took the stand in the time since construction started," a spokeswoman said. 

Now, in response to the video, the department says the site's stormwater discharge is fully permitted under federal laws, and they will make addressing the on-site erosion a top priority. However, on-site conditions will see improvements once the site becomes more stable. 

The spokeswoman’s full statement said:

“The State and JDA take environmental compliance seriously. The site’s stormwater discharges are fully permitted under State and Federal laws, and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division is actively monitoring the site and responding to complaints. Following heavy weekend rains, EPD again inspected the site on Monday. Based on that inspection, as well as self-inspections, the stormwater controls are adequate and working as designed. The State and JDA will continue to make addressing any issues identified by the on-site erosion and sedimentation engineers or EPD a top priority. As is the case with all land-disturbing activity and the associated regulatory and permitting framework, we expect on-site conditions to continue to improve as additional erosion control measures are implemented in the field and as the site approaches final grade and stabilization conditions.”

Resident JoEllen Artz is part of the push to stop the Rivian construction and she does not believe these improvements will be made. In an interview with Artz, she said this was not the first time the community has seen this on the site.

“It was just the same thing over again,” she said. “It was extremely frustrating.”

Artz stressed that the community’s main concerns are not against electric vehicles, but focus on the location.  

“We're against the fact that this factory is being put in the wrong place,” Artz said. “It's being built on our water supply.”

In regards to the court ruling, she said she understood Judge Bradley’s decision citing a lack of permanent damage to the community but believes more damage is to come. 

“We haven't had enough harm. Our harm is going to come once the factory has been built and is in production,” Artz explained. 

Residents have also challenged the state’s $1.5B subsidy in court. The state gave the Rivian project the subsidy as part of the deal, but a judge has questioned its legality.

Artz said that the case is expected to conclude sometime in 2023, but with construction at the site moving forward, she and other Morgan County residents said they will continue to push back to prevent any more harm to their community. 


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