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Morgan judge refuses to issue order to halt grading of Rivian site
Residents had complained dust and dirt was fouling adjacent properties' water and air
Rivian rendering
This exterior rendering of Rivian’s future Georgia manufacturing campus shows a view of the front of the plant building, along with planned green spaces filled with native plants. - photo by Special to The News

MADISON, Ga. — A Morgan County Superior Court judge has denied some residents' request to stop grading of land for the planned Rivian electric vehicle plant because any alleged damage done to nearby properties did not amount to a "substantial threat of irreparable injury."

Judge Stephen Bradley said in his Friday, Nov. 25, order that it did not justify issuance of a temporary restraining order to halt work on a portion of the 2,000-acre site where Rivian is planning to locate its second U.S. production facility.

Bradley's ruling was in response to a case he heard Nov. 10 in which Morgan residents Edward Clay, Candace Beam, Alan D. Jenkins, A. Felton Jenkins III and Deborah Crowe sought a temporary restraining order to stop Plateau Excavation Inc.'s grading for the EV plant. 

The residents' attorney, John Christy, asked Bradley Nov. 10 to stop the grading because it was damaging the water and air of the five plaintiffs he represented who live near the site.

Attorneys representing Morgan County, the state government and the Joint Development Authority (JDA) of Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton counties told Bradley at the same hearing that the grading work must continue to meet Rivian’s construction schedule and allow the state to meet its legal obligation as part of an incentive package for the company. 

Bradley ruled Friday, Nov. 25, that "the plaintiffs have failed to carry their burden of showing sufficient grounds for a temporary or preliminary restraining order."

He said Clay alleged in the Nov. 10 hearing that the land disturbance activities on the Rivian property contaminated the well on his property from which his household gets its drinking water. 

"He testified that his swimming pool filter was caked with dust and mud and that his icemaker was filled with brown sediment. He stated that his pool appeared clean, but the backwash is brown when the pool is drained. 

"The state countered this evidence with expert testimony that, due to the slow movement of groundwater, any current sediment apparent in Mr. Clay's filters could not have derived from the JDA site." 

Alan Jenkins and Deborah Crowe also would have testified that the "dust, noise, light, impacts upon well water and other interference and intrusions upon such property from the activity on the Rivian property" is lowering Jenkins' property value and preventing him from fencing in cattle he intended to raise on his property, Bradley said in the ruling.

"Paragraph 48 of the Complaint alleges that plaintiff Crowe's property has been similarly affected by dust and other particulates which have blown onto the property since the commencement of the land disturbance activities on the Rivian property," the ruling stated.

However, Bradley wrote that "requesting this temporary injunctive relief requires the plaintiffs to carry their burden of showing a harm that would be substantial and irreparable."

"While they have presented some evidence of harm to their property, that evidence does not rise to the level of a substantial threat of irreparable injury," he wrote.

"Moreover, while these may be inconvenient nuisances in the short run and troubling if continued in the future ... The present level of harm is neither significant nor permanent," the ruling stated. "Each of the harms shown can be adjusted or corrected, by definition they are not irreparable.

"The only real risk of an unchangeable result seems to arise from the allegation that additional land on the Rivian property will be cleared and graded by the state — the potential loss of wilderness on state property," the ruling stated. 

"Plaintiffs do not have standing to tell the state how to handle its land. Plaintiffs' role is to identify particularized damage to their own properties and to seek involvement from the court where it is legally available. 

"There is little evidence of actual damage here. If in the future there is greater indication of loss or damage, this court is confident that plaintiffs will return to address it. At present, however, there is little on plaintiffs' side of the scale."

Defendants included Morgan County planning director Chuck Jarrell; members of the Morgan County Board of Commissioners; Morgan County, Georgia; the JDA; and Plateau Excavation Inc.,

A Monday, Nov. 28, joint statement from the state government and JDA said Bradley’s "accurate assessment and ruling is further proof that site development is occurring appropriately and as planned."

"It is clear the plaintiffs’ only interest is delaying or stopping this project, at seemingly any cost. As Judge Bradley stated, the (temporary restraint order) 'motion is clearly a machination not to redress an irreparable harm, but to stop the construction of the Rivian production plant.'  

"So, while the close-minded opposition group continues to file frivolous lawsuits and make unsubstantiated claims, we will continue the legally responsible and efficient development of the Rivian site for this generational opportunity to bring good-paying, innovative, American jobs of the future to Georgia."

Christy said Monday, Nov. 28, that his clients "brought suit because they are directly impacted by the site work at the property. "

"They brought their action to protect their rights," Christy said.  

He said his clients still will have other chances to intervene in development of the site.

Since an Oct. 13 dust storm "which fouled state waters with silt, there have been two other blowouts reported and which Georgia (Environmental Protection Division) is investigating," Christy said.

In addition, Christy said a court has not yet ruled on his clients' claim that the Rivian property "is subject to local zoning" rather than than being exempt because the state government owns the site. 

"If the court agrees with our clients that it is (subject to local zoning), then construction of the project cannot continue until the rezoning process is initiated and completed," he said.

The California-based automaker has said it will employ up to 7,500 at its planned $3 billion facility on the site straddling the line between Morgan and Walton counties on the north side of I-20.