SOCIAL CIRCLE, Ga. — The Joint Development Authority this week heard that delays from a slowdown of work to grade the planned future site of an electric vehicle plant are costing the state government millions following a legal challenge to a stream protection permit.
Machinery used by Plateau Excavating Inc. has been forced to sit idle as the JDA and state of Georgia wait to grade portions of the 2,000-acre site affected by some Morgan County residents’ challenge to a variance issued by the state Environmental Protection Division (EPD), said Kevin Forbes of construction manager Thomas & Hutton.
Rivian plans to hire up to 7,500 for the facility on the state-owned site.
Plateau is preparing the site — located on the north side of I-20 in Walton and Morgan counties — for the start of construction of an electric vehicle production facility for Rivian Inc.
The JDA is serving as the developer. It is paying Plateau and being reimbursed by state funds in a Regional Economic Business Assistance (REBA) grant.
A challenge to the state EPD-issued Stream Buffer Variance permit led to an automatic stay which prevented any construction work within the 25-foot buffers along the streams, said a JDA spokesperson.
He said grading work continues on other parts of the site.
The challenge by nearby resident Julie Jenkins is currently being considered by the Office of State Administrative Hearings.
The Authority on Tuesday, Feb. 28, approved a change order to the contract with Plateau that increased the amount by $950,000.
It followed the Authority’s January approval of a change order of $4.5 million for the company that was in part related to equipment down time for the legal challenge.
In a related development, Forbes told Authority members that Plateau removed contaminated soil from the site after a geotechnical testing firm found diesel oil had been leaking from three underground tanks used by a former farming operation at the site.
“They’ve been leaking for awhile so we had to remove a lot more soil than we thought we had to,” Forbes said.
The Newton County Water & Sewerage Authority also is progressing with construction of a water tower that will store reclaimed wastewater from other Stanton Springs tenants for use by the Rivian plant, said Authority member Bob Hughes.
The water tower will be capable of storing 1 million gallons, Hughes said.
During a public comment section of the meeting, residents who oppose the construction complained about removal of trees and the smell of diesel exhaust coming from the the site.
The Authority in recent months voted to keep in reserve $4 million from collections of payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) from tenants of Stanton Springs South for expected future litigation costs related to Rivian.
It typically would disperse the tax collections to the four counties the JDA represents — Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton — but has the legal option of keeping the funds in reserve if needed, officials said.
Rivian opponent Chas Moore of Rutledge told Authority members the $4 million should have been given to the counties immediately because they are funds owed to the taxpayers.
Christina Burks of Social Circle said exhaust smells from the site near her home have been overwhelming at times.
“I don’t want a front row seat to this,” she said. “I invite y’all to come live in our shoes.”
After the meeting, the Rivian opponents announced they would host a community barbecue March 25 at noon at Veterans Park in Rutledge. More details would be coming in the near future, they said.