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Ogeechee Riverkeeper to file suit over Metaplant permitting
Group seeks to halt construction at Ellabell site
Ellabell metaplant
The Hyundai Metaplant in Ellabell is shown under construction in March 2024. As part of a lawsuit it is filing against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Ogeechee Riverkeeper is seeking to halt construction of the plant until the Corps addresses the group's water permitting concerns. (Photo courtesy Hyundai Motor Group Metaplant America)

The Ogeechee Riverkeeper filed a letter of intent Monday to sue the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, claiming the agency did not complete required steps and overlooked water supply concerns during the permitting process for Hyundai Motor Group's Metaplant America in Ellabell.

Hyundai broke ground on the 2,541-acre site in October 2022 and plans to commence production operations at the plant by the fourth quarter of 2024, with official opening of the facility in the first quarter of 2025. Currently under construction just south of I-16 East near Blitchton, the Metaplant complex is now projected to employ, eventually, 8,500 people on-site. 

"Ogeechee Riverkeeper seeks the immediate halt in construction or development activity connected to the improperly issued permit until resolved," the release stated. "ORK also insists federal funding be frozen until the required environmental analyses are completed. Finally, ORK seeks the restoration of any and all environmental damage resulting from the improper approvals."

Representatives with the Hyundai Motor Group could not be reached for comment about the lawsuit.

According to a release from the Riverkeeper, the Metaplant site sits on the edge of Black Creek, which flows directly into the Ogeechee River. Prior to its development, the area was home to a variety of aquatic and terrestrial habitats, including 625 acres of forested and scrub-shrub wetland, as well as streams, the release stated.

"One of (the Riverkeeper's) directives is to be a watchdog for water resources and make sure permitting processes are done correctly," Damon Mullis, riverkeeper and executive director said. "When we find out that permit applicants withhold important information in an application and the permitting agency hasn't done their due diligence, we will call them out and use the law to hold them accountable."  

The Riverkeeper's suit also states that "Documents show that the agency accepted vague or nonexistent information regarding expected water usage, rather than insisting on specifics or conducting its own analysis. 

The application stated that the amount of water needed was "unknown," yet the Corps of Engineers determined, "it would be reasonable to assume that the Bryan County supply is adequate" and "would not require water withdrawals or a permit from Georgia EPD." 

Both Bryan and Bulloch counties have submitted permit applications to the state Environmental Protection Division for a total of four wells that would supply water to the Metaplant. All four would be drilled in southern Bulloch County near the county line, since Bulloch is in a "green zone" for withdrawing water from the Floridan aquifer, while Bryan County is in the inland-coastal counties "yellow zone" for groundwater permit restrictions.

Bulloch County submitted an application to the EPD Watershed Protection Branch for two wells, asking for up to 3.125 million gallons a day on an annual average. Bryan County has submitted an application to EPD for two Floridan aquifer wells to be sited in Bulloch County, asking for up to 3.5 mgd on an annual average.

If the permits are approved and the system built as planned, Hyundai Motor Group, and potentially other customers of the Bryan County system, would pay Bryan County for the water supplied from Bulloch County's two wells, and Bryan County would in turn pay Bulloch. If Bryan County is permitted to drill the two wells it plans to own within southeastern Bulloch, the Bryan County government would receive the water usage fees paid by its customers and would pay Bulloch a "host fee" for those wells.

The non-profit Ogeechee Riverkeeper was founded in 2004 and is based in Savannah. The Ogeechee River is approximately 294 miles long and runs along the borders of Bulloch County with Screven and Effingham counties.

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