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Construction at Georgia Rivian site fouling water, neighbors say

State began grading truck assembly site in early October; brown well-water appeared afterward

RUTLEDGE, Ga. — Work has begun on a huge auto assembly plant project east of Atlanta, despite ongoing efforts to stop it. A judge is supposed to decide by Thanksgiving on a request from some residents to halt the work, citing environmental issues that emerged within days of the start of work.

Edward Clay looks across the road from his home. He said he hears "constant digging and banging," and sees a sprawl of heavy equipment tearing through 200 acres of what used to be a hay field.

At his house, he has a water filter that turned alarmingly brown "about two weeks after they broke ground." 

Clay said his wife first noticed it when brown streaks formed on their kitchen ice maker. 

Their home uses water from a 40-foot well dug on his property. He said the equipment at the Rivian site is grading away property that dips below his well line. Clay believes the equipment goes into an underground aquifer that feeds his well.  

Residents said there is no city water line. Alongside Clay's property, Rawlings Branch Creek is also freshly caked in mud since the work started on the site.

When Gov. Brian Kemp announced the Rivian project, a $1.5 billion state subsidy was part of the deal. Rivian makes electric trucks. We spotted one at midday alongside the construction site.  

State officials dispute that the work fouled Clay's water. 

“A hydro-geological expert testified in court last week that there is no conceivable way silt could travel from the site property through the groundwater into the wells of the one plaintiff who took the stand in the time since construction started," a spokeswoman for the State Department of Economic Development wrote on behalf of the state and the local Joint Development Authority, which has moved the Rivian project forward on behalf of the state.

Residents have challenged the state subsidy in court and a judge has questioned its legality.  Another judge is considering an order to stop the project. But for now, the work continues.

"We were very thankful that the judge recognized for us our legal rights in this case. So we were very susprised that they began the grading of this land," said Alan Davis Jenkins, a fifth-generation resident of the area. "They have graded well over three hundred acres at this point over the top of an aquifer recharge zone."

The state disputes that as well.

“We take environmental management of the site seriously and are following all State and Federal laws. Alarmist claims and complaints about this situation are not aligned with the facts and are agenda-driven," the statement said.

Clay, who drives a truck for a living, said his only agenda is to have clean water and to retain the bucolic farmland that drew him to this rural area outside of metro Atlanta.  

"I don’t oppose development," Clay said. "But this is not the area for that. Not for something this large."

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