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Rivian opponents hire additional law firm; board considers site’s tax exempt status
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. — Rivian opponents’ new attorney is warning them about what judges will consider in their fight against the electric vehicle maker’s plans for a production facility in Morgan and Walton counties. 

In addition, a Morgan County tax assessors board has scheduled a special called meeting to consider a regional development authority’s request for a determination if land to be owned by the state and leased to Rivian will make the land tax-exempt.

The Morgan County-based group Our Communities Oppose Rivian Production Plant announced it has hired the Atlanta-based Schreeder, Wheeler & Flint law firm in its fight against the company’s plans for a $5 billion electric vehicle production and research facility on a 2,000-acre site partly in Social Circle. 

Attorney John A. Christy said in a letter to the group that “we will do our best to accomplish your goals of preserving your beautiful community and lifestyle.”

He also cautioned group members that judges “will only consider actual controversies and disputes” and not stop a government body from considering issuing a permit.

“However, if the permit or other governmental authorization is not properly issued, then a court will consider invalidating the action and stopping action from being taken on the improperly issued authorization,” he wrote.

“It is important to properly assert any objections to actions requested of governmental authorities in order to preserve appeal or litigation rights. Those objections need to be made during any comment period, or at the meeting of the governmental body considering the request.”

He said a court will not stop the filing or the Army Corps of Engineers’ consideration of a “404” permit the state recently requested dealing with disturbance of land and water sources.

“During the public comment period, we will file any objections or comments to the application. If the (Corps) does not adequately consider any objections and approves the application, we can appeal the decision to the United States District Court,” he wrote.

Christy also wrote the law firm is reviewing the payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement presented to the Morgan County Board of Tax Assessors for approval. 

“We will appear at the Board’s upcoming hearing and present your concerns and objections to the Board for its consideration. If the Board approves the PILOT Agreement and has not properly considered our objections and comments, we then have the right to pursue appeal and litigation remedies.

“Similarly, if a land disturbance permit, zoning or other application for governmental approval is sought, we will review the requests and submit any appropriate objections in a timely manner and appear at any public hearing to urge them.”

He said other unresolved issues include whether the state of Georgia is exempt from local zoning laws and whether the acquisition of land by the state for non-public purposes is lawful. 

“Those issues will likely need to be resolved by the courts in actions brought at the appropriate time,” Christy wrote.

The law firm is in addition to environmental law specialist Stack and Associates, officials said.

Our Communities' announcement followed the Morgan County Board of Tax Assessors scheduling a special called meeting for Thursday, May 12, at 9 a.m. to consider certification of a lease plan that was part of a payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement between Joint Development Authority (JDA) and Rivian.

The tax assessors board voted to delay action, or table, the JDA’s request April 27 over the objection of County Attorney Christian Henry. The attorney told board members they were exceeding the board’s authority by considering the merits of the entire Rivian deal rather than only checking if the rental agreement made the land tax-exempt.

The PILOT plan states the Georgia state government will acquire the land from the JDA and lease it to Rivian. 

The agreement spelled out the amount the company will give in PILOT payments which could total $300 million over 25 years and be shared between the JDA’s four counties. Newton will receive more than $90 million of the total.

The group also will host a benefit concert May 21 at the Social Circle Theater in Social Circle. Proceeds will help pay legal fees for the group.

The Scott Little Band and Doug Deluxe & the Rodeo Clowns are set to perform at 7 p.m., according to information from Our Communities.