A Rivian resistance group out of Rutledge is gaining steam, raising more than $80,000 in two days to fight the historic multibillion dollar electric car manufacturing plant planned for a nearly 2,000-acre site straddling Morgan and Walton Counties.
Leaders of the Rutledge Opposes Rivian Assembly Plant group announced an urgent fundraising campaign with a tight time crunch. After two anonymous donors contributed $80,000 to the group in order to procure legal help in the fight to halt the Rivian project, organizers are trying to raise at least another $45,000 by Tuesday, Jan. 25, to pay the retainer fee of a “top-notch” Georgia law firm prepared to take the case.
“This firm will charge $250,000. As a retainer for their services, they want half by Tuesday,” explained John Strickland, one of the organizers of the Rutledge Opposes Rivian group.
“We need money and we need money fast. We need it by Tuesday. And I know that’s hard,” said Keith Wilson, one of the Rutledge Opposes Rivian leaders.
The group announced a newly incorporated organization able to accept donations for the Rivian opposition movement, the Morgan Land, Sky, & Water Preservation (MLSWP). The group also launched a new website and GoFundme page. To donate, visit: www.gofundme.com/f/no-2-rivian. To see the new website, visit: www.No2Rivian.org. You can also follow the group on Facebook: Rutledge Opposes Rivian Assembly Plant.
"Rivian wants to build a 20 MILLION square foot electric-truck/auto assembly plant housing 7,500 to 10,000 employees in Morgan & Walton Counties immediately adjacent to Newton County that will forever destroy our natural environment and rural life," said the joint-statement from the No2Rivian GoFundMe page.
On Sunday, Jan. 23, an impromptu community meeting was held at the Liberty Stables and Saddle Clubs Facility in Social Circle, drawing about 150 in-person attendees, with at least another 400 tuning in via live stream. The Rutledge Opposes Rivian Assembly Plant’s Facebook page, has nearly 1,000 members as of Sunday, Jan. 23. Sunday's meeting raked in more than $8,000 in donations from in-person attendees.
Bundled-up Rutledge residents braved the frosty air Sunday afternoon in hopes of turning up the heat on local elected officials facilitating the massive Rivian Automotive development. The group detailed a plan moving forward to combat the Rivian project through both public pressure campaigns and legal action.
“We have two paths before us. There is a legal path that will bring the Rivian project before the courts and the path of delivering a huge outcry from the public to our elected officials,” said Strickland. “Those are the paths we are taking now.”
The first demonstration of that “huge public outcry” will be at the next Joint Development Authority (JDA) meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 25, in Madison at the Morgan County Administration Building, located at 150 East Washington Street at 1 p.m. The Rivian opponents plan to attend en masse, wearing red to signify their opposition and donning protest signs.
“We need to unify as a community like never before,” said Strickland. “We need a tidal wave of opposition…When I say we need everyone to attend this meeting, I mean everyone.”
Strickland encouraged people to bring their kids, their neighbors, and anyone who wants to join the protest movement against Rivian setting up shop in Morgan and Walton counties.
“The JDA members need to see the faces of those their decisions are affecting,” said Strickland.
Alan Jenkins, a presbyterian minister, urged attendees to remain civil, respectful, and professional during all protests against Rivian. However, Morgan County Sheriff Robert Markley pledged to have police officers at all future public meetings concerning Rivian, after “concerning” rhetoric circulated social media after the last Rivian Town Hall on Jan. 11.
The public backlash prompted Shane Short, executive director of the Walton County Development Authority, to abruptly back out of a second Town Hall in Rutledge. Short cited “personal attacks” as the reason for the cancellation.
“Nothing has risen to the level of criminality,” said Markley, “But we are keeping an eye on it, and we will have officers at all of the meetings.”
Rivian opponents are preparing for an uphill fight ahead. Wilson praised the Small But Special community during Sunday’s community meeting for their dedication in this David-and-Goliath type battle.
“I have never seen anything like this…to see a community come together like this to fight something so significant,” said Wilson. “We aren’t just fighting county commissioners, but we are going up against the state.”
Leaders urged the crowd to prepare for the next several weeks.
“The next four weeks are quite pivotal,” said Jenkins of the timeline before the Morgan County Board of Commissioners is slated to vote on the rezoning of the land secured for Rivian.
Morgan County’s Planning Commission will review rezoning requests for Rivian during the Thursday, Feb. 24, meeting at 7 p.m. on the second floor of the county administration building. The planning commission will vote to either recommend approval or denial of Rivian’s request before it goes before the Morgan County Board of Commissioners for final approval on Tuesday, March 1, at 10 a.m., held in the same location.
However, Jenkins also reminded the crowd that even if opponents are successful in persuading county commissioners to vote against the rezoning requests for Rivian, that project can still move forward if the land ownership status is handed over to the State of Georgia.
“When the state owns the land, the state does not have to abide by our zoning laws that we all have to abide by,” lamented Jenkins.
Nonetheless, organizers urged the crowd to bombard elected officials with emails and phone calls to express opposition to the Rivian project, including Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, the county commissioners in Morgan and Walton Counties, and members of the JDA.
During Sunday’s community meeting, attendees raised a myriad of objections to the massive manufacturing plant unprecedented in size coming to the historically rural area. Prominent concerns included the loss of farmland, a strain on utility services, the risk of contaminating well water and groundwater, the lack of infrastructure to accommodate a development so large, as well as increased traffic, noise and light pollution.
Others feared a domino effect of development, leading to overcrowding with unwanted residential subdivisions, hotels, and restaurants to accommodate the 7,500 employees Rivian plans to hire.
Another repeated complaint from the crowd was the perceived lack of transparency among state and local officials, particularly the Joint Development Authority, the four-county board tasked with overseeing the development of Stanton Springs.
“We don’t want a concrete jungle here,” said Mike Burdette, who closed on a house in Rutledge just one day after Kemp announced the Rivian deal. “They want to turn us into Fulton County. That’s the JDA’s whole thing...We have to figure out how to dismantle the JDA.”
Other attendees just wanted to preserve their rural way of life for themselves, their children and future generations.
Little Miss Rutledge Paisley Lewis, 8, attended the community meeting with her parents, holding a “Rutledge Opposes Rivian” sign.
“We moved out here to give our kids country living,” said Amanda Lewis, Paisley’s mother. “You can’t find places like Rutledge anymore. We found our forever home here and we want to keep Rutledge the way it is to give a few more generations of kids the gift of country living.”
The crowd left the outdoor meeting with mixed emotions. Jenkins asked people to shout out single words to convey how they were feeling. Among the answers were “devastated,” “empowered,” “betrayed,” and “hopeful.” Despite the odds being against them, the Rutledge group will still take a leap of faith to continue fighting against the Rivian project.
“For now, we all need to do two things. We all need to pray and we all need to be at this JDA meeting on Tuesday at one o’clock,” said Strickland.
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