After living in Appalachia for the last five years, I am a true believer that to you have to be from here to truly understand these mountains. My neighbor from Miami is as clear a portrait of this as I could ever hope to provide. Life is and was always harder in these hills. From the winters to the almost complete void of well-paying jobs means you have to really want to live here and be willing to sacrifice for a way of life. Not helping matters much is a clear and delineated history of corporations treating the abundant natural resources that we are blessed with here as their own personal playground to do with what they please, when they please, and with no real compensation for what they use or, more accurately, abuse. From coal to timber, and everyone in between, corporations have been able to get away with too much in our little neck of the woods.
The reasons for this profit-making free-for-all are many but can be boiled down to one pervasive theme: Poverty. When people are worried where their next meal is coming from, or how they are going to put a roof over their heads, a job is a lot more valuable than a scenic view or clean water. The problem here lies in the fact that the companies providing these jobs are the same companies keeping the wages low so as to keep the people poor and quiet. The bullshit transpiring on the Nolichucky River, as I write this, is just one more instance of a long line of crap the people here have been expected to swallow. The only difference is that this time US Nitrogen is the company holding the spoon.
Here’s a little recap to get everyone caught up. US Nitrogen manufactures explosives, mainly used in mining applications, one of which happens to be mountaintop removal (I know, the irony is thick here). In 2010, US Nitrogen selected a site on Pottertown Road in Greene County, Tenn., for a new liquid ammonium nitrate plant. The industrial process required to make liquid ammonium nitrate requires vast amounts of water, more than a million gallons a day for this size facility. Originally, water was to be provided by Greene County through existing water systems. The sticking point in this plan was the rates US Nitrogen would have to pay for this water. No agreement could be reached, so US Nitrogen began negotiations with the state of Tennessee, the Industrial Development Board of Greene County, as well as other various boards and agencies to construct a double pipeline extending from the Nolichucky River to the site of the plant 12 miles away.
The proposed pipeline would extract approximately 1.4 million gallons of water a day from the river, returning 45,000 gallons of “treated” water to the river after evaporation losses in the manufacturing processes were accounted for. These negotiations were not held in public, and no meetings were scheduled to gather input from other stakeholders and landowners along the Nolichucky. This deal was done behind closed doors by US Nitrogen and the public officials residents expected to represent their best interests. Sadly, the interests of the residents of Greene and Cocke Counties were never even brought up in anything other than in terms of dollars and cents.
To top off the good ol’ boy back-room dealings, was the fact the state rights of way needed for the project could not be conveyed to a corporation other than a utility. So instead of giving up on the idea and actually paying for their water, the Industrial Development Board (IDB) stepped in and made itself a utility. I once made myself He-Man by coloring my tighty-whities brown and fashioning a sword. Unfortunately for me, this didn’t make me He-Man, just a jackass in brown tighty-whities. The whole approval process for a 12-mile pipeline through various public and private property, benefitting no one but US Nitrogen, took less than six months to get approved. It takes most people longer to get a paint color approved by their neighborhood association.
All hope is not lost, however. In this story, the people of East Tennessee are standing up and saying “enough.” Once Nolichucky landowners — some of whose family have owned land on the river since revolutionary times — got a rotten sniff of what was transpiring, they banded together grassroots-style to form the Save The Nolichucky organization. They immediately filed injunctions and lawsuits against all the major players, and in a sad prophecy of what might become of the mighty Nolichucky, held a funeral for the river. The hearing for temporary injunction will be held in the Greenville, Tenn. Chancery Court on January 22 at 9 a.m. I for one plan on being there and having my voice heard, and I hope to see some of you there. This aggression on the Nolichucky will not stand.
This is an editorial. The author has no claims to actually know what he’s talking about in terms of facts, figures and dates. So don’t email him. Seriously, don’t. Instead please use that time to garner your own informed opinion based on the facts. For more information, please visit savethenolichucky.org. Send all angry letters, calls, threats, and burning bags of poop please visit usnitrogen.com.