Neighbors at Social Circle vehicle production site say news has ‘blinded’ them
SOCIAL CIRCLE, Ga. –A chief industry recruiter on Tuesday sent a direct message to residents hoping they could convince Rivian Automotive not to build a $ 5 billion electric vehicle plant near Social Circle.
âThis ship has sailed,â said Shane Short, executive director of the Development Authority of Walton County.
Short was responding to questions and comments from residents of Walton and Morgan counties living near the site of the planned electric vehicle production and research facility at a Joint Development Authority meeting on Tuesday, December 28 in Georgia BioScience Training Center at Stanton Springs Business Park. .
California-based electric vehicle company Rivian announced on December 16 that it would build its second production plant in the United States on a 2,000-acre site in the Stanton Springs North Business Park, off Exit 101 of the I-20 to US Hwy. 278.
The site lies primarily within the city limits of the Social Circle in the northeast quadrant of the interchange, bordering the Newton County Line and covering the southern tip of Walton County and the westernmost part of Morgan County .
A dozen residents of the area told the Joint Development Authority on Tuesday what they saw as a lack of transparency, as well as their concerns about the impact on the rural nature of the area.
Some residents also said they should consult local and regional media about the potential 7,500-employee project rather than hearing it from area governments or development authorities.
Social Circle resident Christine Wertz said she would never have moved to her Darel Drive home adjacent to the site had she been made aware of Rivian’s plans.
âThe lack of transparency is deeply troubling to me and I think of many others,â she said.
James Evans of Social Circle said he was concerned about the impact of the construction on the well water that many area residents depend on.
He also said he was not happy with the timing of Rivian’s announcement as the holidays approach, when residents’ attention may be turned elsewhere.
“It just blinded everyone,” said Evans, who has lived in the area since 2004.
Joellen Artz of Rutledge lives near the site and said she believed Morgan County would lose “hundreds and hundreds of acres of farmland” to the construction of the plant.
She also said Rivian could eventually abandon its plant as have automakers in other states, including Normal, Ill., Where Rivian opened its initial plant in a former Toyota plant.
Short said the Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton Counties Joint Development Authority (JDA) plans to hold town halls for residents of the Rutledge area and for those who live on the roads around the site. He planned to advertise them on the JDA website and social media platforms.
He said Rivian had also scheduled a meeting with the residents and working with them to address their concerns.
Short, who is one of two industrial recruiters for the JDA, said Rivian approached Georgia’s Department of Economic Development about the site and state officials handed responsibility for the project to the JDA.
He said potential large employers typically require recruiters and officials to sign nondisclosure agreements legally requiring them not to reveal any information before making the information public.
Development agencies and recruiters want to advertise their successes and do not “intend” to keep such big projects a secret, he said.
âWe just couldn’t legally tell you what was going on,â Short said.
Short said companies need the deals for reasons such as withholding competitor information or stock trading issues, he said.
âThey control the timing very carefully,â said Short. “There are still things (about Rivian) we can’t talk about.”
However, he added that “the business is coming”.
âYou can’t stop this, but they are open to listening to your concerns,â Short said.
Rivian planned to begin site work for the construction of its facility in mid-2022 and begin production by 2024.
Short said the government would not use its eminent domain power to essentially take land.
âEach owner gave us their price,â said Short.
State officials who researched the Kia plant in West Point, Georgia, rightly found that most of its employees would likely choose to live far from the immediate area of ââthe plant site, Short said.
He predicted that the same scenario would repeat itself for the 7,500 workers at the Rivian plant due to the lack of available housing around the site, the lack of infrastructure plans by the governments of the region and the limited possibilities of shopping nearby.
âWe had no discussion about the apartments,â said Short, responding to the concerns of another resident.
Local leaders control the course of residential and commercial growth in any region of Georgia, he added.
Rutledge resident Sim Sergiadis predicted that his neighbors would continue to voice their feelings loud and clear in the future about their opposition to the project.
âI sell ropes and torches,â he joked.