U.S. Nitrogen plans to take from, return millions of gallons to Nolichucky

Brad Hicks • Feb 8, 2014 at 9:27 PM

U.S. Nitrogen has submitted applications to the state to seek permission to withdraw water from the Nolichucky River, but some in the community are concerned about the facility’s possible impact on the western Greene County area.

In February 2012, Greene County officials held a groundbreaking ceremony for the U.S. Nitrogen facility, to be located on approximately 500 acres of property along Pottertown Road in the Midway area. Through this facility, U.S. Nitrogen is looking to produce a liquid ammonium nitrate solution from the reaction of nitric acid and ammonia.

Ammonium nitrate is a substance used in fertilizers, and is also used for explosives, although it cannot be ignited without mixing it with other materials that will not be present at the Greene County facility, according to the U.S. Nitrogen website.

A revised application for an Aquatic Resource Alteration Permit has been filed with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. This includes applications for general ARAPs for the construction of water intake and outfall structures and the associated pipelines between the U.S. Nitrogen facility and the Nolichucky River.

The proposed location of the U.S. Nitrogen facility’s intake and outfall discharge structure is around 9 miles southwest of the facility on the Nolichucky River at approximately river mile 20.8 near the Greene/Cocke County line.

The application, submitted to TDEC in late January, states U.S. Nitrogen’s process water demand exceeds the capability of the local public utility to supply water without “jeopardizing reliable service to its existing customers.” It also states the projected average daily water discharge of the facility would “consume essentially all of the remaining capacity of the local wastewater treatment plant.” Because of this, U.S. Nitrogen is seeking the permits to construct its intake and outfall structures on the Nolichucky River. The channel of the river at the location of these structures is about 250 feet across.

“A water intake structure is to be constructed for withdrawal of water from the Nolichucky River to serve as U.S. Nitrogen’s primary water supply for cooling and process water,” the application states. “An outfall structure for return water will be constructed near the proposed intake structure.”

Potable water to be used by the facility’s employees, which is estimated to average 3,000 gallons per day, will be provided by the Old Knoxville Highway Utility District, and the corresponding flow of sanitary sewage from facility restrooms and employee showers will be discharged to the town of Mosheim’s sanitary sewerage system and Lick Creek Valley wastewater treatment plant, according to the application.

The application states the process demand for U.S. Nitrogen is estimated to average 1.45 million gallons per day, an amount that is beyond the utility district’s capability without detrimentally affecting customers. It also states the daily return water discharge of 573,000 gallons per day would “consume all of the remaining capacity” for Mosheim’s sanitary sewerage system. It is estimated the effluent flow to the Nolichucky will be approximately 570,000 gallons per day, and the anticipated net water usage is less than 0.5 percent of the river’s flow.

“Cooling is the largest use of water at the U.S. Nitrogen facility,” one of the applications states. “To manage the heat generated in the facility’s production processes, a cooling water flow of 33,000 gallons per minute, or greater than 47 MGD (million gallons per day), is required to be circulated from three cooling towers out to process areas and back”

U.S. Nitrogen is requesting a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit from TDEC that would allow it to discharge up to 20 pounds per day of ammonia on a monthly average and 73 pounds per day as a daily maximum. An application from the company states theses values are below their best available technology economically achievable benchmarks.

According to U.S. Nitrogen, the company intends to hire more than 80 full-time employees after the facility is commissioned, injecting more than $5 million in direct payroll into the local economy, with an indirect economic impact of nearly $10 million.

But Greene County resident and environmental activist Park Overall has her concerns about the plant. She recently spoke to around 50 people at the Bulls Gap Veterans of Foreign Wars post to express her reservations, which include the water to be withdrawn by the plant and safety and environmental impact concerns.

Overall said Friday that materials she possesses show U.S. Nitrogen would withdraw around 2.8 million gallons per day from the Nolichucky, not the 1.45 stated by the company in its applications. She said many of her Greene County neighbors share her concerns.

“It’s the wrong company in the wrong town and the wrong place, and there never was the water to do this,” she said. “The danger is something called anhydrous ammonia. It moves along the ground, and they call it the ‘white carpet of death.’ You’re going to be coming down from West Greene High School, and your car is going to stop and you’re going to get out, and your lungs are going to turn to water.”

Overall said millions in local taxpayer dollars have gone into the U.S. Nitrogen facility. She also said the plant will affect all those along the Nolichucky River, not just those living in Greene County.

“I think it will impact on any farmer along this river,” Overall said. “I think they want too much water, and we don’t have it.”

According to U.S. Nitrogen, the facility expects to begin discharge on June 1.

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