A Morgan County judge has ruled against Rivian Automotive, denying the manufacture $15 billion in bonds to finance construction. As GPB’s Amanda Andrews reports, residents who oppose the plant are calling it a big win.

Morgan County judge denied Rivian Automotive $15 billion in bonds for construction of their manufacturing plant near Rutledge, Georgia.

Superior Court Judge Brenda Trammell ruled Thursday that the Joint Development Authority could not prove the Rivian project was “sound, reasonable, and feasible”, so the company is not eligible for the bonds.

The Joint Development Authority is a collaboration between Jasper, Morgan, Newton, and Walton counties to attract industry to the region.

Residents of Rutledge and the surrounding areas have been organizing to stop the project all together since it was announced in December 2021. JoEllen Artz is one of the main organizers of an opposition group in the region. She said this decision is great news in a long legal battle.

“We're very, very grateful to the judge for being so meticulous,” Artz said. “We don't know what the JDA will do next. They have the right to appeal. But I understand that appeal could take a long time.”

In the decision, Judge Trammell also ruled Rivian would have to pay traditional property taxes. Initially the company’s rental agreement was considered a usufruct, a legal status which allows the Joint Development Authority to lease the land without taxing it. Under that plan, Rivian was scheduled to make regular payments totaling at least $300 million instead of paying taxes over the course 25 years.

Residents said the $300 million wouldn’t be nearly enough for the surrounding counties to cover development costs associated with a large manufacturing plant. JoEllen Artz said an attorney looked over the contract and found the counties would be getting far less than they were promised.

“We basically were able to prove that we were only going to get 44 million the way the contract was written,” she said. “But if it was actually taxable, we would get over the two counties would get over 700 million in property taxes.”

Artz said that money would go to building new schools, maintaining roads, hiring more first responders for the thousands of workers and families the plant would bring into the area.

The JDA and Georgia Department of Economic Development said in a joint statement they plan to move forward and may appeal the decision.