Rivian opponents sue to halt excavation work on Georgia EV plant site

Plaintiffs claim grading work is sending dirt into waterways and onto properties nearby

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Residents near the future $5 billion Rivian electric vehicle plant sued Friday to try to stop grading work on the property, alleging the site isn’t properly zoned and that local officials are turning a blind eye.

Five Georgians sued the Joint Development Authority (JDA) of Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton Counties and the company it hired to begin grading the 2,000-acre factory site.

The lawsuit claims the parcels were never rezoned from agricultural use to industrial, but should have been, and that the JDA did not obtain the proper county land disturbance permits. The lawsuit also names all five members of the Morgan County Board of Commissioners and the county’s planning director as defendants, claiming they are not enforcing local codes.

The JDA and a board of commissioners representative declined to comment. Plateau Excavation, the firm hired to grade the Rivian site, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The five plaintiffs, who all either live or own property in Morgan County, said the grading work is stirring up dust and discharging dirt into nearby bodies of water.

A swimming pool and two wells that supply drinking water on one plaintiff’s property have become clogged with sediment since grading began, the filing alleges. The suit also claims that dust, light and noise from construction will harm cattle kept by some of the plaintiffs and reduce their property values.

The opponents are asking a Morgan County Superior Court judge to issue a stop work order.

“The plaintiffs are property owners who are directly impacted by the clearing, grading, excavating, transporting and filling of land being done at the Rivian property without lawful permits,” said John Christy, an attorney representing the plaintiffs in the case.

Late last year, California-based Rivian announced plans to build a sprawling factory on about 2,000 acres along I-20 about an hour east of Atlanta. Rivian has said it will employ 7,500 workers there.

In exchange, state and local leaders offered Rivian more than $1.5 billion in incentives, including tax breaks, grants, free infrastructure and land.

The project enjoys support among many community and business leaders in Walton and Morgan counties, but it also has generated vocal opposition. The state stepped in earlier this year to take control of the property, in part, to more easily bypass local zoning.

The state instead created committees that include members of the public to analyze environmental, workforce and quality of life issues.

Friday’s lawsuit is the latest effort by Rivian opponents to slow or shut down the project.

Seven members of Rivian opposition group Morgan County Land, Sky & Water Preservation previously challenged aspects of local property tax incentives offered the automaker.

In September, a Morgan County judge sided with Rivian opponents, shooting down some $700 million in local property tax breaks that formed a central piece of the larger incentive package. That ruling is likely to be appealed.

After the ruling was issued, the JDA and Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD) said they “intend to work with Rivian to move this project forward and see it through to completion.”

The Rivian incentive package was the largest such deal in Georgia history until Hyundai Motor Group was offered $1.8 billion in similar incentives to build an EV plant near Savannah.

Hyundai plans to hold a ceremonial groundbreaking for its plant in Bryan County on Tuesday. A groundbreaking for Rivian is expected soon.

A note of disclosure

Cox Enterprises, owner of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, also 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.