Rivian project gets federal wetlands permit, site work to expand



The EV startup said it’s committed to minimizing the factory’s environmental impact

Rivian’s $5 billion electric vehicle factory planned for a rural site an hour east of Atlanta cleared a major environmental hurdle Wednesday, when the federal government granted the project a key permit allowing grading to begin on the entire 2,000-acre site.

The clearance — called a 404 permit — was issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and was required because portions of the site contain federally protected streams and wetlands.

The approval means the Corps determined the state and company’s plans for the site minimized impacts to those waters to the greatest extent possible. Though grading is already taking place on a section of the property in southern Morgan and Walton counties, the Corps’ action clears the path for preliminary construction work to commence on the rest of the site.

Rivian and state leaders announced the factory and 7,500 promised jobs in December last year. The project ranked as the largest recruitment in Georgia history until it was surpassed earlier this year by the $5.54 billion Hyundai Motor Group EV factory under construction near Savannah.

Despite officials’ promises of jobs and growth, a vocal group of opponents has worked to derail the Rivian project deeming it too costly to taxpayers and too great a risk to the environment.

The Georgia Department of Economic Development and the Joint Development Authority (JDA) of Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton Counties on Wednesday called the approved permit a “critical step” that keeps on track the project’s construction timeline.



“Rivian’s planned facilities will support conservation efforts while adding great value to the local community, and we applaud their dedication to good environmental stewardship through every step of the development,” Pat Wilson, the state’s economic development commissioner, said in a news release.

Rivian also cheered the permit’s approval.

“With this expected and necessary next step, Rivian remains excited to work with Georgia to bring good paying manufacturing jobs to the state while respecting the natural environment in which we operate,” Rivian said in a statement.

Opponents of the Rivian plant have raised many concerns about the future factory. Among them are fears of runoff and pollution affecting the watershed and privately owned wells, which supply much of the drinking water to nearby residents.

Earlier this year, in the face of uncertainty surrounding local zoning, the state took control of the Rivian site, allowing it to avoid votes by local boards. But the project was also required to obtain the permit from the Corps because the site contains wetlands considered “Waters of the United States,” placing them under the federal government’s jurisdiction.

According to the final permit reviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Corps found Rivian’s plans will disturb roughly five acres of federal wetlands, just under 18 acres of ponds and more than three miles of streams on the site. More than half of the affected streams flow year round, while the rest only contain water during certain parts of the year, like after rainfall.

Due to those impacts, the project will be required to purchase wetland and stream mitigation credits to compensate for the impacts on federal waters. The exact form of those credits was not immediately known.

California-based Rivian advertises itself as an environmentally conscious company focused on electrifying transportation, and the state and JDA argued the company’s factory will fulfill that mission.

The buildings and impermeable infrastructure will be on higher ground where it will avoid affecting wetland areas, the release said. Rivian will also preserve “as much of the existing tree growth as possible,” and half of the site’s acreage will be permeable to absorb storm water. In addition, rainwater will be collected and used on-site.

“Following the company’s philosophy for new construction, the mature site will take into account best practices to limit lighting, storm water runoff, water quality, and noise impacts and to preserve scenic views and natural systems,” the release said.

Credit: Rivian

Credit: Rivian

In addition to the Army Corps, the permit application was reviewed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the environmental protection and wildlife resources divisions of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Georgia Historic Preservation Division.

Beyond potential water issues, residents opposed to the Rivian project have voiced concerns that the plant could produce light pollution, disturb wildlife and bring traffic and unwanted development. During public meetings over the summer, several residents said they were frustrated by a lack of details about the project.

Concerns over the project’s environmental effects and impacts to nearby residents ended up in court once preliminary excavation began on areas not affected by wetlands.

Five Morgan County residents sued seeking a stop-work order to cease operations on the site over alleged runoff into waterways and onto nearby properties, muddying drinking wells and clogging water filters. The judge denied that request, and the plaintiffs recently filed a motion to withdraw their lawsuit.



An attorney representing the Rivian opponents did not immediately provide comment on the 404 permit.

Local opposition previously notched success in court when a judge rejected approving $700 million in local property tax breaks, which make up a significant portion of the $1.5 billion incentive package that state and local officials offered Rivian. The state is appealing that ruling.

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.