The green light has been given to Rivian for the expansion of work at the nearly 2,000-acre site in Morgan and Walton counties reserved for the $5 billion Electric Vehicle (EV) megafactory. Grading work across the entirety of the site can now commence after the Rivian project was approved for the Clean Water Act Section 404 Permit last week.
“The Georgia Department of Economic Development GDEcD), in conjunction with the Joint Development Authority of Jasper, Morgan, Newton, and Walton Counties (JDA), has received a Clean Water Act Section 404 permit for the Rivian project from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — an expected and significant step in the development of the site,” said an announcement from the GDEcD and JDA on Dec. 28.
“To earn this approval, the State and JDA have demonstrated that the project planning has avoided and minimized impacts to wetlands and streams to the maximum extent practicable and that all unavoidable impacts will be fully mitigated for. As part of its standard public interest review, the Corps sought and received public comments on the permit application, which the State and JDA carefully reviewed and provided detailed responses to.”
The GDEcD and JDA are celebrating the permit approval as an imperative win for the project, which has faced significant public backlash and ongoing legal challenges.
“The approval of the Section 404 permit is another critical step for the community and the State in the development of this exciting and transformational project,” said Georgia Department of Economic Development Commissioner Pat Wilson.
“Environmental protection forms the backbone of Rivian’s corporate philosophy, and from the start, the State has been committed to protecting local groundwater and minimizing environmental impact by following established law. Rivian’s planned facilities will support conservation efforts while adding great value to the local community, and we applaud their dedication to good environmental stewardship though every step of the development. The excitement surrounding Rivian’s new Georgia home is growing daily as we continue to create the future together.”
According to the GDEcD, “In addition to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Section 404 permit application was reviewed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources-Environmental Protection Division, Georgia Department of Natural Resources-Wildlife Resources Division, and the Georgia Historic Preservation Division.”
This particular permit has been a point of contention for the opponents of the proposed Rivian manufacturing plant, who are concerned about the plant’s potential risks to local water sources, wells, groundwater recharge areas and residential drinking water supply, along with other environmental impacts.
The anti-Rivian movement out of Rutledge has launched a legal challenge, which successfully derailed the $15 billion bond validation approval to fund the project. That case is currently awaiting an appeal ruling. The same group is raising environmental objections to the project.
“Our group has always acknowledged that the landowners who sold to the JDA for Rivian had the right to do so. Our concern has focused on protection of the groundwater recharge area under the project. Experts hired by the JDA have stated they believe they can provide the same amount of water for our wells as we currently have but cannot guarantee the quality of our drinking water after the construction,” said JoEllen Artz, a Rutledge resident and one of the leaders of the anti-Rivian movement.
“This is devastating, and because of this, we are saddened that the US Army Corps of Engineers failed to put our well-being above a polluting lithium battery and electric vehicle production facility.”
The anti-Rivian movement is pushing for the work site to be put on hold until the bond issuance case is resolved in court.
“At this critical point, Governor Kemp could step forward and say that the project is on hold until the legal system has had its say about the bond issuance; why destroy more land for a factory that may never be built?” said Artz. “Wall Street also says that Rivian is one of several 2022 IPOs that may never survive 2023. Does Governor Kemp really want an abandoned Rivian construction site that may or may not be suited for whatever industry replaces it? He can proudly say he is going to take the moral high road right now and put this project on hold or face national and international embarrassment when this project fails.”
Another outspoken anti-Rivian member is disheartened by the permitting approval for Rivian.
“This industrialization is in violation of Morgan County zoning regulations. Subsidizing a private company, the risky start-up California based Rivian, Inc., is not a public purpose,” said Felton Jenkins III, another Rutledge-native whose family claims they were threatened with land condemnation to sell off property for the Rivian project.
“Rivian is not ‘respecting the natural environment’ by forcing through this project in this rural location. This empty talk is called ‘greenwashing.’ A company that cared about conservation would build their factories and battery plants on land that has already been industrialized and zoned for such use. Georgia is among the top three states in America that is converting and paving over agricultural land and greenspace. Joni Mitchell sang, ‘they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.’ To many people, this area is a rural paradise.”
But the GDEcD and JDA are standing by the project and looking forward to bringing Rivian’s 16 million-square-foot manufacturing plant to fruition.
“Consistent with its environmentally conscious mission, Rivian’s site designs show some of the ways the company aims to minimize the environmental impact of the facility footprint: Half of the site acreage will be permeable, vegetative surface that absorbs stormwater, creates wildlife habitat and stores carbon, with building placement and impermeable infrastructure on higher ground where possible to avoid impacting wetland areas,” said the GDEcD announcement.
“Rivian intends to preserve as much of the existing tree growth as possible. Rainwater will be collected and used on-site, reducing the need for traditional potable water supply. Following the company’s philosophy for new construction, the mature site will take into account best practices to limit lighting, stormwater runoff, water quality, and noise impacts and to preserve scenic views and natural systems.”
Rivian leaders are also celebrating the approval of the 404 permit.
“With this expected and necessary next step, Rivian remains excited to work with Georgia to bring good paying manufacturing jobs to the state while respecting the natural environment in which we operate,” Rivian said in a statement to the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC).
The GDEcD also claims that the Rivian project is going above and beyond to satisfy environmental concerns.
“Although the project is not subject to local regulations by virtue of the State owning the property, the State and JDA included site development guidelines and environmentally driven requirements in the overarching agreement between the State of Georgia, the JDA, and Rivian,” said the announcement.
“Rivian will be required to comply with the Stanton Springs Business Park Ordinance’s threshold regulations as well as limit impervious surfaces to 50 percent of the site versus the 70 percent otherwise permitted, perform additional hydrology studies, design the stormwater detention for a 100-year storm, comply with the Walton County tree ordinance, coordinate with the local observatory regarding outdoor lighting plans, maintain a 500-foot setback from Old Mill Road, and comply with all federal and state environmental permitting requirements. As demonstrated by these extra requirements, conserving buffers, wildlife habitat, and outdoor recreation around the site is a priority for the State, JDA, and Rivian.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers received Rivian’s application for the 404 permit in April 2022 and issued approval on Dec. 28, 2022. Other permits approved for the project include: Stream Buffer Variance; EPD 401 Water Quality Certification Concurrence, Phase 1 of the permit area is released for construction by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Construction Stormwater Permit and Land disturbance permit.