- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 9, 2014

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A judge has declined to rule on an injunction filed in an effort to stop a controversial water pipeline in East Tennessee, but he set a trial date in the lawsuit.

Media report that Greene County Chancery Court Judge Douglas Jenkins set a Jan. 22 trial date for a lawsuit filed by residents who are seeking to stop construction of the 12-mile pipeline.

“The judge can now hear the case based on its merits,” said Jerry Laughlin, attorney for the Greene County Industrial Development Board.

The plaintiffs argue that a vote taken by the Industrial Development Board on July 18 should be declared null and void because the public couldn’t hear deliberations on the issue.

The board voted at the meeting to apply for a permit to build the pipeline to transport water to and from the Nolichucky River for use by industrial chemical plant US Nitrogen. At least 59 complaints were filed with the state about the meeting, many complaining that they couldn’t hear board discussions.

Some have opposed the pipeline because of fears the intake or discharge of water might damage the environment. However, local officials say the project could create hundreds of jobs.

A US Nitrogen official says the company plans to press forward.

“Through rigorous permitting processes and negotiations with community leaders and elected officials, US Nitrogen has engineered a water solution that will allow our facility to operate at its highest function and that minimizes impact to the Nolichucky River watershed and the community infrastructure,” said Justin Freeark, plant manager for US Nitrogen. “We remain committed to this solution. US Nitrogen will move forward with pipeline construction as scheduled on behalf of the town of Greeneville and Greene County Industrial Development Board.”

Three other lawsuits have been filed over the project, including a second open meetings challenge and one by the Old Knoxville Highway Utility District that says the pipeline infringes on its right to supply water.

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