After successfully halting $15 billion in bonds to finance the planned Rivian Automotive plant, local opponents are taking their fight against the electric automaker, Morgan County, the Joint Development Authority and the State of Georgia to court once again, in an effort to enforce local zoning standards upon the project.
Rivian is poised to construct a $5 billion megafactory atop a 2,000-acre site, primarily comprised of historic farmland, between Rutledge and Social Circle. Rivian’s proposed 16 million-square-foot manufacturing plant, one of Governor Brian’s Kemp signature deals touted as the second largest economic development project in Georgia history, has been met with fierce opposition from a growing group of locals who want Rivian to go elsewhere.
The latest attempt to derail the project comes in the form of a zoning lawsuit filed against The Morgan County Board of Commissioners, Morgan County Planning Director Chuck Jarrell, The Joint Development Authority (JDA) of Jasper, Morgan, Walton and Newton counties, and Plateau Excavation, the company clearing the Stanton Springs North site designated for Rivian.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit, who are all nearby property owners in Rutledge, are Edward Clay, Candace Beam, Alan D. Jenkins, A. Felton Jenkins III, and Deborah Crowe.
The lawsuit, filed on Oct. 21, aims to restore local control over the zoning process for the portion of property that falls within Morgan County designated the Rivian project, which opponents believe will halt construction of the plant altogether.
“We are confident this action will bring the zoning back to our local jurisdiction, and also halt work, for the time being,” said JoEllen Artz, one of the leaders of the anti-Rivian movement out of Rutledge.
The lawsuit alleges that although the site for Rivian is owned by the State of Georgia, the project should still be subject to local zoning ordinances, standards, and processes. The suit claims Rivian is a for-profit business that will not operate as a “state-function” and therefore, should not be exempt from local zoning laws. The State of Georgia took ownership of the site with the intent to lease the property to Rivian as a way to circumvent local zoning laws, since the state is typically exempt from such laws.
“The development and operation of the Rivian Project is not a permitted use under the Agricultural Residential (AR) zoning district of the Morgan County zoning ordinance,” states the lawsuit.
The lawsuit further alleges that the current zoning of Stanton Springs North site is not conducive for the heavy industrial plans put forward by Rivian and supported by the State of Georgia and the Joint Development Authority, the four-county board tasked with overseeing the development of Stanton Springs North.
“The case the attorneys are putting forth regarding the Rivian project area, currently owned by the State of Georgia, is that it is still zoned Agricultural/Residential and therefore should be subject to such local zoning,” explained Artz. “While the State owns the property, it should not be exempt from local zoning, as Rivian is a private company, and the project does not constitute a State function.”
The lawsuit also alleges that the JDA and Plateau Excavation are unlawfully performing “land disturbance” activities at the site in preparation for construction not permitted under the current local zoning ordinances. The lawsuit is asking the court to require the JDA and Plateau Excavation to obtain a land disturbance permit from Morgan County before any further work can be done.
“Rivian Land Disturbance Activities are being conducted in a manner that has produced the improper and illegal release of airborne dust and other particles, and has also resulted in the discharge of dirt, silt and other particulates into the waters of the state contrary to both State Law and the Morgan Development Regulations,” writes Attorney John Christy in the petition filed with the Morgan County Superior Court.
The JDA declined to comment on the lawsuit.
As of press time on Tuesday, Oct. 25, county officials had not yet been served with lawsuit but are aware of its existence.
“We haven’t been served yet,” said County Attorney Christian Henry. “Once we are, we will have 30 days to review and file our answer. We will look at it carefully.”
County Commissioner Chairman Ben Riden said he would have to review the lawsuit to determine its merits, but lamented the prospect of a looming court battle.
“It’s unfortunate that taxpayer funds will be used to defend Morgan County in a lawsuit brought against the county for property owned and controlled by the State of Georgia,” said Riden.