As Rivian works to clear permit hurdles, residents want site details

Credit: Drew Kann

Credit: Drew Kann

The company said it is committed to minimizing the $5 billion EV plant’s environmental impact

State environmental regulators are in the process of reviewing Rivian’s development plans to ensure they will not harm local water quality, as a local development authority and the company race to clear permitting hurdles ahead of a planned groundbreaking on its $5 billion factory next month.

The filing, which was submitted on August 12, was revealed Wednesday at a public meeting held at Athens Technical College’s Monroe campus. Rivian’s factory is slated to be built on a 2,000-acre site about an hour east of Atlanta near the towns of Rutledge and Social Circle.

Hank Evans, a Georgia Department of Economic Development representative, said the water quality application is currently being reviewed by the state’s Environmental Protection Division. At the same time, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is reviewing a separate application for a Section 404 federal wetlands permit, which is required to ensure the plant causes minimal impact to streams and wetlands on the site.

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Earlier this year, the state took control of the land that Rivian plans to build on, allowing it to get around some local zoning regulations. But state officials Wednesday sought to assure residents that the company will not be allowed to skirt the environmental permitting process.

Evans said no wetlands on the site will be impacted until the proper permits are in place.

“EPD staff is reviewing the application now and no 404 permit may be issued by the Corps until EPD has certified that water quality standards will not be negatively impacted by the development,” he said.

The meeting, which allowed public comment, was one in a series of events the state is hosting to address concerns about different aspects of the project — from environmental and quality of life impacts to workforce development and local business engagement.

Credit: Drew Kann

Credit: Drew Kann

A Rivian representative offered some insight into the company’s site design plans. He said Rivian is committed to protecting local water supplies and habitats.

For months, residents on the doorstep of the site have voiced concerns that the plant could contaminate well water, produce light pollution, and disturb wildlife.

Gerard Lopez, Rivian’s director of workplace and production real estate, said minimizing the facility’s environmental impact is at the heart of its evolving site plans.

“Rivian is approaching the site for the factory as a clean sheet — a foundational rethinking of equipment, processes, systems and operations that will allow us to model the future of cleaner, more environmentally-conscious manufacturing,” Lopez said.

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Lopez said the company plans to construct all buildings and impermeable infrastructure on higher ground, to avoid disturbing the wetlands. He said the company is also working to ensure construction preserves as much tree cover as possible.

Still, several residents said they were frustrated by a lack of details about the project and what the new 16-million-square-foot EV production facility will look like.

“I want to see what it’s going to look like from the street? Where are things going to be located?” said Tina Wertz, a Social Circle resident who moved into a house directly across the street from the factory site last year. “The whole time this project has been going on, we’ve found out very little information about it.”

A note of disclosure

Cox Enterprises, owner of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, owns about a 4% stake in Rivian and supplies services to the company. Sandy Schwartz, a Cox executive who oversees the AJC, is on Rivian’s board of directors and holds stock personally. He does not take part in the AJC’s coverage of Rivian.