Local leaders are praising Georgia’s historic multibillion dollar deal with Rivian Automotive that will land a massive electric car manufacturing plant in Morgan County.

The new plant will sprawl across 2,000 acres of land in both Morgan and Walton counties near Exit 101 on I-20, near Highway 278, leading all the way up to Old Mill Road in Rutledge. The plant will be partially built upon the old Verner Family farmlands.

The project is expected to yield a $5 billion investment, create 7,500 jobs, and churn out an estimated 400,000 electric vehicles per year once the plant becomes fully operational. Construction is slated for the summer of 2022, with manufacturing beginning in 2024.

Bob Hughes and Andy Ainslie, Morgan County’s representatives on the Joint Development Authority (JDA), are thrilled for the coming Rivian Automotive plant and the opportunities it brings to Morgan County and the surrounding counties.

“The benefit to Morgan County will be significant,” said Ainslie, a Morgan County Commissioner and JDA member. “The goal of Stanton Springs has always been to create high-quality jobs for the region and more tax revenue for the counties. This does both.”

“This is going to be a good thing for us,” said Hughes, who is also president of the Madison-Morgan Chamber of Commerce. “The first thing is that Rivian Automotive is a high-tech industry, offering good paying jobs. They are a good company and they are going to be as green as they can be while manufacturing electric vehicles that are better for our environment.”

Morgan County, along with Walton County, is now poised to become the epicenter of the burgeoning electric car industry, revolutionizing Georgia’s automotive manufacturing economy. Hughes believes the development will launch Morgan County into the future, but believes local government can still protect the county’s rural character, even with the industrial giant within its borders.

“When I moved to Madison in 1979, Morgan County was a different place than it is now. I would expect in another 40 years, Morgan County is going to be a different place than it is today. That’s part of progress,” said Hughes. “But everything outside of the interchange and new plant will largely remain like it is today. With good, strong zoning from the county, they can aid development where needed and deter it where it’s unwanted.”

While Hughes and Ainslie are optimistic about the Rivian Automotive plant coming to Morgan County, Rutledge residents are more skeptical, with dozens of citizens of the “Small, but Special” community taking to social media to decry the deal and posting anti-Rivian signs around town.

Rutledge Mayor Bruce Altznauer is hoping to learn more about the project this week during the JDA’s regular meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 28. But Altznauer believes any opposition to the project is just too late.

“The bell has rung and we cannot unring it,” said Altznauer. “Now we have to be diligent to make sure that it has as little impact on our great City.”

Altznauer is concerned about traffic congestion created by the thousands of new workers commuting in and out of the plant each day, but hopes downtown streets will not be impacted, only the nearby highways. He was also concerned about water and sewer services, which Rutledge could not handle the demands of for the project, but noted Walton County or other surrounding counties would be tasked with providing the plant’s utility needs.

“I believe the workers and support traffic will use I-20 for East/West travel and North/South traffic will mostly use the new proposed Exit 103 Cloverleaf. Either traffic pattern should not include our downtown,” said Altznauer, who is hopeful about the Rivian development.

“Our City infrastructure cannot handle the requirements of a project of this size, the initial figures I was given was a daily water need of between one to three million gallons…you need a reservoir for that need, Newton and Walton have reservoirs, Morgan County does not, but the JDA does. Our city, nor our county, had the sewer capacity for such a project, but the JDA does,” he said. “This project has been so well thought out, one City or County cannot do it, but collectively we can.”

Altznauer is hoping to be influential in how the county proceeds to help protect Rutledge’s small-town culture.

“Will this project impact us? Sure, it has to, but I believe that we can control it,” said Altznauer.

According to JDA Attorney Andrea Gray, 850 acres within Morgan County will need to be rezoned to accommodate the Rivian Automotive plant. According to Morgan County Manager Adam Mestres, the rezoning process will begin in early 2022. Ainslie is hoping all rezoning will be finalized in March 2022. County leaders are expecting pushback from citizens against the project.

“There will be a public hearing as required under the law,” said Mestres. “It will be advertised and all properties will be posted on site as required by law.”

Hughes and Ainslie urged local citizens to look at the big picture of Morgan County’s future.

“Some people will look at the size of this project and it scares people, I understand that, but I believe most of the impact from this will be absorbed into the four counties without harming Morgan County’s character,” said Ainslie. “There will be some impact, but we can control it like we did with the Southside of Stanton Springs. Morgan County has barely been impacted by Takeda, Facebook and Baymare which are right on the other side of the expressway.”

“This is exciting. This is the future of manufacturing and we are just tickled to death that they chose our area to come to,” said Hughes. “It’s going to give our area a lot of high-quality jobs for generations to come. This is the largest development in the state of Georgia. On top of that, three of the largest projects in the state of Georgia are in Stanton Springs; Takeda, Facebook and Baymare. It’s all right here. We can all be proud of this incredible achievement because of the intercounty support the JDA developed that is now a model example for other regional efforts across Georgia.”

Hughes noted that more details will soon be coming out about the incentives Georgia has offered Rivian Automotive to locate in Stanton Springs and how the added industry will boost Morgan County’s share in generated tax revenue from the project.

“The details aren’t finalized yet. But stay tuned,” said Hughes.

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