In tiny Rutledge, Rivian’s proposed EV plant the talk of the town

A local resident navigates the 4-way stop on East Main Street in historic downtown Rutledge on his way to the Caboose on Wednesday, Dec 8, 2021. Ed Hogan, owner of the Caboose restaurant, is opposed to a Rivian electric vehicle plant, saying "it's going to be too many vehicles. There will be 200 cars out here. I don't know what other people want but we like it the way it is."    “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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A local resident navigates the 4-way stop on East Main Street in historic downtown Rutledge on his way to the Caboose on Wednesday, Dec 8, 2021. Ed Hogan, owner of the Caboose restaurant, is opposed to a Rivian electric vehicle plant, saying "it's going to be too many vehicles. There will be 200 cars out here. I don't know what other people want but we like it the way it is." “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

California truck maker plans could upend rural stretch east of Atlanta

RUTLEDGE – For Terry Haymore, whose family has lived on the same land since the 1890s, the calls from real estate investors started about two months ago. Now his phone rings several times each day.

For a long time, not much has changed in this old cotton and railroad community. Christmas garland and red ribbon drape streetlights. There is a hardware store and a restaurant, The Caboose, with its kitchen in an old red rail car.

Rutledge, an hour east of downtown Atlanta down I-20, has no traffic lights. But this town of about 800, where golf carts and tractors are common sights on its quiet two-lane streets, could soon become a national hub of electric vehicle manufacturing.

State and local officials remain mum about negotiations with California-based Rivian to build a large factory on about 2,000 acres of rolling pastures and pine forests near here. But the possible plant is the talk of the town.

Some are excited by the prospect of thousands of new jobs, but most of more than a dozen people who talked with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in recent days said they fear a factory could upend rural life and nearby towns.

Many are angry about being kept in the dark until negotiations were reported by the press. The AJC reported Friday that an official Rivian announcement could come Thursday.

“This property has been here through four generations of my family. I would hate to see it go,” said Haymore, whose land just outside Rutledge borders the potential Rivian plant.

ExploreRivian electric vehicle plant may be coming to Georgia
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Pasture land sits on either side of Davis Academy Road where it runs through the potential Rivian electric vehicle plant site on Wednesday, Dec 8, 2021, near Rutledge. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Pasture land sits on either side of Davis Academy Road where it runs through the potential Rivian electric vehicle plant site on Wednesday, Dec 8, 2021, near Rutledge.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Pasture land sits on either side of Davis Academy Road where it runs through the potential Rivian electric vehicle plant site on Wednesday, Dec 8, 2021, near Rutledge. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Some residents fear they’ll be forced off their property as traffic and new development erase precious farmland. That could raise land prices and their taxes, which could hobble farmers’ livelihoods. All while the company will likely fetch a bounty of tax breaks.

Rivian hasn’t confirmed it is eyeing Georgia or the land that stretches into southern Walton and Morgan counties, saying recently it was “in discussions with multiple locations.” The EV maker declined to comment Friday.

Jan Sullivan, who was shopping Wednesday at the town farmer’s market and lives in nearby Madison, said she would like to open a bakery. Rivian’s investment would give the area an economic boost, she said.

“This area desperately needs it,” she said.

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A map of the area where the Rivian plant could be located.

A map of the area where the Rivian plant could be located.

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A map of the area where the Rivian plant could be located.

Not so, says Dennis Beam, a farmer. He raises cattle near the site offered to Rivian, which lies north of I-20 between U.S. 278 to Old Mill Road.

“This is beautiful farmland, and this is a company that’s supposedly a green company that’s going to save the world,” Beam said in a telephone interview in early December. “Yet they’re destroying the beautiful countryside when there’s plenty of places they could go. It makes no sense.”

The Joint Development Authority of Jasper, Morgan, Newton & Walton Counties, an economic development agency, has approached multiple property owners to sell land near what’s known as the East Atlanta Megasite, according to five people who spoke to the AJC.

Three people who live near the proposed factory site said the government gave owners little time to consider their options and left impressions their land either could be condemned or they could be stuck living next to a bustling factory if they said no.

Neighbors said one such property owner is a widow who lives in a 200-year-old house. The neighbors said the development authority offered to buy her land and pay to move the historic home and relocate the woman, who declined to be interviewed.

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A Santa sits on an antique piece of farm equipment next to a recently harvested field along Atlanta Highway in the tiny historic town of Rutledge on Wednesday, Dec 8, 2021. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

A Santa sits on an antique piece of farm equipment next to a recently harvested field along Atlanta Highway in the tiny historic town of Rutledge on Wednesday, Dec 8, 2021.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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A Santa sits on an antique piece of farm equipment next to a recently harvested field along Atlanta Highway in the tiny historic town of Rutledge on Wednesday, Dec 8, 2021. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The mayors of Rutledge and nearby Social Circle, where a portion of the megasite is located, did not return messages seeking comment.

Shane Short, a JDA official, declined to discuss Rivian nor confirm the company as the prospect.

“As you know, those of us in economic development cannot comment publicly about what may or may not be happening on any economic development project,” he said in an email.

He added that a community meeting will be held “very soon.”

Cox Enterprises, owner of the AJC, has a 4.7% stake in Rivian. 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.

Land roots for some families go back to 19th century

The Rev. Alan Davis Jenkins, a Presbyterian minister from Decatur, said his family has owned land here since the early 1800s. A family cemetery on Old Mill Road is the resting place for relatives going back generations.

“This is where my father is buried, and this is where my mother will be buried and this is where I will be buried,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins plans to build a home and an organic and regenerative farm on more than 200 acres of family land across the street from the proposed factory site. He said he fears damage to the watershed, the impact to wildlife and pollution from the site, including light that could end clear views at night of the stars.

“As an environmentalist whose ministry is caring for creation, I see the importance of moving towards a fossil fuel-free economy,” Jenkins said.

He credited Rivian for refurbishing an old Mitsubishi plant in Illinois for its first factory. But he said the company should show the same care for the environment with its second.

“There are other unused or underused or old industrial sites in this country and in this state,” Jenkins said. “Farms can’t be bought. Soil cannot be bought. It can only be protected. Where will development stop? Who will protect the land?”

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The Rev. Alan Davis Jenkins, who lives in Decatur, but whose family has owned land near Rutledge in Morgan County since the early 1800s, stands in a family cemetery on Dec. 3, 2021, along Davis Academy Road. Jenkins wants to build a home and organic farm on family land near Rutledge and is opposed to a Rivian electric vehicle plant that could be built nearby on about 2,000 acres between Rutledge and Social Circle. J. SCOTT TRUBEY/STAFF

Credit: J. Scott Trubey

The Rev. Alan Davis Jenkins, who lives in Decatur, but whose family has owned land near Rutledge in Morgan County since the early 1800s, stands in a family cemetery on Dec. 3, 2021, along Davis Academy Road. Jenkins wants to build a home and organic farm on family land near Rutledge and is opposed to a Rivian electric vehicle plant that could be built nearby on about 2,000 acres between Rutledge and Social Circle. J. SCOTT TRUBEY/STAFF

Credit: J. Scott Trubey

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The Rev. Alan Davis Jenkins, who lives in Decatur, but whose family has owned land near Rutledge in Morgan County since the early 1800s, stands in a family cemetery on Dec. 3, 2021, along Davis Academy Road. Jenkins wants to build a home and organic farm on family land near Rutledge and is opposed to a Rivian electric vehicle plant that could be built nearby on about 2,000 acres between Rutledge and Social Circle. J. SCOTT TRUBEY/STAFF

Credit: J. Scott Trubey

Credit: J. Scott Trubey

Haymore, whose family also has owned its land since the 19th century, said earlier this month that the JDA hadn’t approached him about selling, nor have they talked to his father.

“Everybody here is either related or knows each other,” he said. “I made a few phone calls and people will say ‘I don’t know anything, but I had to sign a nondisclosure.’ Well, if you didn’t know anything you wouldn’t be signing a nondisclosure.”

Haymore said he’s in no rush to leave, but he doesn’t want to be one of a few residents left to contend with the noise and traffic. He said he expects Old Mill Road will become an exit for the new factory, which means the Georgia Department of Transportation could come calling. Or a developer for a truck stop or some other commercial project.

In the 1960s, Haymore said his grandfather wrestled with DOT when it acquired land for the interstate.

“They wanted to give him less money than they were giving people in Newton, Rockdale and DeKalb. And he ended up winning,” Haymore said.

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120821 Rutledge: A wreath and Christmas decorations hang over Main Street in downtown Rutledge on Wednesday, Dec 8, 2021.. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

120821 Rutledge: A wreath and Christmas decorations hang over Main Street in downtown Rutledge on Wednesday, Dec 8, 2021..   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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120821 Rutledge: A wreath and Christmas decorations hang over Main Street in downtown Rutledge on Wednesday, Dec 8, 2021.. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Some residents said they hope more jobs will keep young families in town.

But not long ago, many in Rutledge were angered by a proposed subdivision with a few dozen houses.

Rutledge, they said, isn’t accustomed to change.

Ed Hogan, the owner of The Caboose, might see a surge in sales if the plant were built. But Hogan said the project would swamp Rutledge with traffic.

“We like it just the way it is,” he said.

-Staff photographer Curtis Compton contributed this this report.

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