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Residents pack first meeting of state’s Rivian planning committees
Walton resident
A Walton County resident gives her opinion on the proposed Rivian plant to members of the state's Site Plan and Environmental planning committee Monday, April 18, at Athens Technical College's Monroe campus. - photo by Tom Spigolon

MONROE, Ga. — Rivian opponents did not hesitate to show their anger about plans for a $2 billion electric vehicle plant to another government panel Monday when they unloaded on a state-sponsored advisory group in Monroe.

Just as in earlier meetings of the Joint Development Authority, residents who mostly came from Morgan County packed a meeting room and complained to the state’s planning committee on site design and the environment.

Many spoke about relevant issues such as their fears about the plant ruining the pristine nature of the land and their future water resources. Emily Fallowell said more than 100 wells existed near the plan site in the mostly rural area.

“I’m not against Rivian,” Fallowell said. “(But) why destroy 2,000 acres of beautiful, rural farmland?”

Others simply accused the committee of conspiring with Rivian and Gov. Brian Kemp to hold “sham” hearings.

The Georgia Department of Economic Development organized the committees to hear from residents and give a recommendation to state officials about Rivian’s plans for its second U.S. production facility on a site straddling the line between Walton and Morgan counties on the north side of I-20.

Staff lead John Eunice, deputy director of the Environmental Protection Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, chaired the meeting at Athens Technical College’s Monroe campus, which heard from numerous speakers.

Eunice said the meeting was the beginning of a long process of public meetings on the plan that will incorporate residents’ thoughts about the EV factory in their recommendations about Rivian. 

He said Rivian still must file environmental and land disturbance permits — after which more public hearings are planned, he said.

Social Circle resident Christina Wertz said she lives across from the planned future site of the plant and worried about how area residents and 7,500 workers would evacuate in case of a fire at the proposed 16 million-square-foot facility.

She also worried about the safety of her two daughters whom she said had to walk a half-mile to their school bus stop.

“Would you want to raise your daughters across the street from 7,500 strangers?” Wertz asked.

The committee included Eunice and James Boylan, assistant branch chief of the Air Protection Branch of Georgia Environmental Protection Division; and Anna Truszczynski, chief of the Watershed Protection Branch of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

However, more than one speaker accused committee members of working against them and not being unbiased about the project when the state’s economic development commissioner and governor supported the project.

Edwin Snell of Oconee County said he wondered why Chuck Jarrell, director of the Morgan County Planning Department, was seated on the committee.

“You all are the enemy,” Snell said. “Y’all are going to destroy the lives of all the people here.”

Committee member Ed Hutter of Covington, a non-governmental volunteer member, told Snell he was “offended.” He said “that is just not true” about accusations the committee was working with Rivian.

“Don’t condemn this board,” he said. “We’re here to hear your complaints.”

Jarrell said he was “here to protect the residents of Morgan County.”

“This is the only way to protect them,” he said.