RUTLEDGE, Ga. — A group of opponents planned to use protest and the power of prayer to address concerns about environmental impacts from the planned Rivian EV plant near their homes today and Sunday.
The group, Say No 2Rivian, were to protest at the State Capitol in Atlanta today to bring attention to allegations about lack of information on environmental impacts and their complaints being "all but ignored" by Gov. Brian Kemp.
It plans to hold a "peaceful protest" from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. at the state Capitol so state legislators can hear them before the end of the 2022 session of the Georgia General Assembly, said spokesman Chas Moore.
"Since the state took ownership of the proposed EV (and) battery plant in February there have been no permits issued yet transfer of ownership of property to the JDA is due to start in April and construction is rumored to be scheduled immediately after that," he said.
He said many who live near the site are still waiting on an Army Corps of Engineers environmental impact statement as well as site locations, wetland permits and plans for waste management, among other required documents, Moore said.
In addition, Moore said Say No 2Rivian plans to hold a prayer vigil about their environmental concerns at the planned Rivian site Sunday.
Group members plan to gather at the site on Davis Academy Road near Rutledge "and stand together shoulder to shoulder in unity as a community to use the power of prayer and ... focused intention to stop the land from being used for toxic industrial use," Moore said.
"We are a caring community that want God’s will to be done and for there to be peace in our communities, that we have done everything we can to protect our precious resources,” he said.
The Rivian project was announced in December. It will create 7,500 jobs and be a $5 billion capital investment, company officials said. A new Technical College System of Georgia training center and a new interchange on I-20 will be included.
The state government took charge of the Rivian project in February in agreement with the Joint Development Authority (JDA) of Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton Counties, officials said.
State Economic Development Commissioner Pat Wilson said the state of Georgia will work "collectively with all four counties to ensure a unified and streamlined approach to project development to ensure consistent, uniform conditions across the site."
The action also allows state officials to work on the planned 16-million-square-foot project without having to go through local planning agencies.
However, Wilson said the state of Georgia will ensure the project — planned for a site straddling the line between Walton and Morgan counties — follow locally required standards pertaining to water quality, groundwater recharge and runoff, and all local environmental ordinances.
Wilson also announced committees would be formed to meet in public and focus on Workforce Development; Local Business Engagement; Site Design and Environmental; and Quality of Life.
Moore said Sunday's vigil will be adjacent to the former farmland owned by the Verner family.
Opponents have questioned the involvement of one member of the family, Alan Verner, in negotiations with Rivian while he served as chairman of the Joint Development Authority (JDA) of Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton Counties.
The JDA worked throughout 2021 to negotiate the deal for Rivian Inc. to plan an EV production and research facility and state government job training center on the 2,000-acre site straddling the line between Walton and Morgan counties along I-20 near U.S. Hwy. 278.
JDA officials have said Verner recused himself from all land negotiations with Rivian and said he “was not involved in any decisions regarding the project (and) had no inside knowledge or influence on this situation.”
The JDA followed state law which governs development authorities engaging in transactions with its members, said JDA attorney Andrea Gray.
The Development Authority of Walton County marketed the site starting in 2018 and the JDA never marketed the East Atlanta Megasite where Rivian plans to build, Gray said.
“The JDA created and began marketing Stanton Springs North, which is 665 acres in May 2021,” Gray said. “The 665 acres owned by the JDA does not abut property owned by Alan Verner.”
JDA bought that land last year to build a frontage road as part of an agreement with Baymare LLC (now Morning Hornet LLC), which said last year it would build a data center at the original Stanton Springs South in a $42 billion deal.
“Rivian’s interest in the site was not the main reason the JDA purchased the 665 acres,” Gray said. “At that time, Georgia was only one of the many sites on Rivian’s list of potential choices. Without Rivian, the JDA would have constructed the frontage road and marketed it for industrial tenants.”
Gray also defended the JDA against the allegations by Rivian opponents that the authority acted unethically in pursuing the company. She called those accusations “completely without merit,” saying the JDA followed open meetings laws and other best practices.