GA residents complain about lack of transparency of Rivian deal

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By Alice Reine

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SOCIAL CIRCLE, Georgia (Citizen of Rockdale– Several residents expressed concerns about the Rivian Automotive plant that is slated for Stanton Springs North at a meeting of the Joint Development Authority of Jasper, Newton, Morgan and Walton counties on Tuesday.

About 10 residents of Walton and Morgan counties spoke during the public comment period of the JDA’s regular meeting, held at the Bioscience Training Center in Stanton Springs.

The lack of transparency regarding the $ 5 billion deal, announced by Governor Kemp on December 16, was one of the main concerns expressed by residents. The electric vehicle and battery assembly plant is expected to hire 7,500 employees, and production is expected to begin in 2024. The plant will be located in Walton and Morgan counties and within the city limits of Social Circle.

“To say it’s a surprise is an understatement,” said James Evans, Social Circle resident. “The timing is moot here over Christmas with the holidays and everything. The biggest concern is just the lack of information. We haven’t received anything from the Town of Social Circle, Walton County, JDA, from the state of Georgia, from Rivian – nothing.

Christina Wertz said she and her family moved to Social Circle six months ago.

“If I had known what was planned for this area… I would never have moved here,” she said. … “The lack of transparency in all of this concerns me deeply. “

Jeanne Sutyak said she just spent $ 30,000 to replace the windows and floors in her Morgan County home, which she believed to be her “forever home.”

“Am I going to be a prominent domain outside my home?” ” she asked.

Rutledge resident John Strickland asked why the JDA signed a nondisclosure agreement with Rivian and when it would expire.

Shane Short, executive director of the Development Authority of Walton County and which provides economic development services for the JDA, said the JDA will hold a town hall in the next two weeks to address residents’ concerns. He said Rivian would follow up with another town hall meeting to hear from residents.

Although Short has said the deal is done and Rivian will come to the area, the company is “open to listening to your concerns.”

“It’s a big impact, and we understand it,” said Short. “We didn’t recruit Rivian; Rivian came to the state of Georgia, and the state of Georgia came to this JDA. We weren’t the only community in Georgia that they looked at. In fact, they looked at three other sites in Georgia. In the end, the company picked Georgia. This is where they wanted to be. And we look forward to this town hall where we can tell you more about the company and its footprint.

Short said virtually all economic development projects involve a nondisclosure agreement to protect business interests. He said legally the JDA could not have commented on the draft until it was announced by the governor.

Short said there was no intention to keep the project a secret, “because, quite frankly, it benefits us. We love to deliver good news, but we are legally bound by what we can and cannot. to say.

He also explained that no prominent estate procedures were used to acquire the 2,000-acre footprint that Rivian will occupy and none are planned in the future.

“There has been no eminent domain on this project,” he said. “Each owner gave us a price for what they wanted for their property. This is how it worked.

Neil Fitzgerald, a resident of Verner Lane, has expressed concerns about upgrading infrastructure, especially roads, before the plant is built.

“What concerns me is the arrival of this factory and with more people coming from all over, we have to work on the infrastructure first,” he said.

Short said there are engineering plans from the Georgia Department of Transportation to help control traffic.

He also said it was unlikely that many of the auto plant’s 7,500 employees will live in the area, as happened at West Point with the development of the Kia plant.

“We don’t have housing. The housing doesn’t exist and you can’t build enough housing during that time to house that many people, ”said Short.

Short said West Point hasn’t changed much from where it was 20 years ago.

“Few people have moved to live in a rural community near this factory,” he said. “Most of them commute. We anticipate that will be the case here because we don’t have homes in Walton County, we don’t have homes in Jasper, we don’t have homes in Morgan County. They’re going to have to get to work. “

New homes will be built, he added, but said affected counties were already working to control growth with stricter zoning regulations. He said the lack of sewers would also limit development in the unincorporated counties of Walton and Morgan.

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