Rivian plant criticized for risks to environment, culture as market setbacks arise
By David Pendered
The newly released regional planning review of the proposed Rivian electric vehicle plant is filled with warnings about risks to the environment and cultural heritage of Morgan County if the facility is built as proposed on land an hour east of Atlanta.
The final report of the Development of Regional Impact was released on Jan. 27 by the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission, which provides services in its territory comparable to the Atlanta Regional Commission.
Planners reviewed the proposal to build a facility that in another era may have been warmly welcomed. Rolling land that now offers “four streams, woodland, open farmland, two roads, a chicken farm, and multiple homes,” is to be developed into a $5 billion manufacturing plant of 20 million square feet on a site totaling almost 2,000 acres. It’s to provide 7,500 full-time jobs.
A battery manufacturing plant is to be built in conjunction with the Rivian plant. Other expected spin-off developments within commuting distance of the plant include suppliers, workforce housing and more public school facilities. Traffic to and from the plant is estimated at 17,000 new trips a day, at a rate of 5,000 vehicles an hour during peak periods. The figure appears to relate only to workers, not supply trucks coming and going from the site.
The NEGRC report cautions that the public costs related to this development should be fully understood from the earliest stages. Anticipated annual taxes total $100 million, on sales and property. The report observes: “Morgan County should compare the tax revenue of the project against the lifecycle maintenance costs of the associated infrastructure to ensure that the project would be fiscally responsible.”
The report cites threats to water resources from the facility that’s to cover half the 2,000-acre site with impervious surface: “The addition of millions of square feet of impervious surface would impede the ability of this land to serve as a recharge are.” Recharge areas allow surface water, from rain, to trickle through pores in the soil and become groundwater. The report notes that most of the facility is to be built in Morgan County, and the entire Morgan County site is in a water recharge area marked on the county’s 2017 “Sensitive Environmental Resources Map.”
Seepage of hazardous effluent from landfills into groundwater is a potential concern cited in the report. Underground water that provides well water to many residents could be tainted by seepage from the burial in landfills of wastes that are to include batteries, solvents, paints and other hazardous materials.
Cultural resources are threatened, if only because they are not plainly addressed in the proposal. Along with a cemetery that may be onsite, the state’s historic resources map shows three historic buildings and one historic site are on the property, and five historic buildings are adjacent to the property. The report observes: “The potential impact on these resources should be clarified and mitigation measures identified prior to development.”
The NEGRC report is significant but not a deal-breaker for the plant’s necessary government approvals.
The findings in the final report are not binding on any governmental considerations of rezoning applications or any other permits Rivian may need to proceed with construction. State regulations require only that findings be considered before a local government authorizes a project to proceed, according to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. DCA monitors the planning of projects big enough to impact several jurisdictions. Former regulations that had given more teeth to DRI reviews were altered by the state Legislature in 2014.
Meanwhile, the timing of NEGRC’s report coincides with setbacks Rivian has faced in the past month. They include the loss of a deal with a potential Korean partner to invent and make batteries; loss of about $100 billion in market cap since a valuation of more than $150 billion following an initial public offering in November, and a mandatory report released Jan. 10 to the Securities and Exchange Commission that showed delivery of vehicles was 10 percent below the forecast. Rivian reported delivering 920 vehicles in 2021, lower than the 1,000-plus Rivian had forecast in November it would deliver by year-end.
Gov. Brian Kemp has backed Rivian’s project by proposing a $112.6 million allocation for the project in the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The money to help Rivian would flow to the Joint Development Authority of Jasper County, Morgan County, Newton County, and Walton County through the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. The Legislature is considering the measure as part of Kemp’s overall budget proposal.