By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Citizens unhappy with $1M fine
Many want further action against King America
Ogeechee meeting Web
Attorney Don Stack, left, representing the Ogeechee Riverkeeper in its Clean Water Act litigation, discusses the status of the proceeding with longtime Ogeechee River resident William Joseph Hunter. - photo by PATRICK DONAHUE/Effingham Herald

   A $1 million judgment against a textiles company blamed for illegal dumping into the Ogeechee River is not enough, said Ogeechee Riverkeeper Dianna Wedincamp.
    She met with about 300 citizens Sunday at Dasher’s Landing in Blitchton, where many people spoke out in objection to the Environmental Protection Division’s consent order that demands King America Finishing spend $1 million in environmental improvements to the Ogeechee.
    The judgment came after the EPD found the plant in violation of permits.
    Wedincamp said the consent order was an insufficient punishment for the textile plant’s violation.
    King America, which applies treatments including fire retardants to fabrics, has been violating its permit since 2006, dumping formaldehyde and other chemicals into the river, according to the EPD investigation, which opened after a May 25 fish kill that left about 39,000 fish dead and possibly sickened humans that spent time in the river.
    In one class action suit filed months ago, two land owners with riverfront property and a Marine who claims health damage due to swimming in the river that weekend are seeking damages from King America.
    The Ogeechee Riverkeeper Organization has filed an “intent to sue notification” with King America and expects to make a decision on the next step to take after the deadline is up Oct. 4, Wedincamp said.
    One man who spoke Sunday called for citizens to join him in another lawsuit against King America and the EPD, which he claims was negligent in allowing the plant to dump chemicals illegally for the past five years.
    “I’ve been fighting this mess since 1988,” said William Joseph Hunter. Formerly the chairman for the Ogeechee River Valley Association, he said he has studied the river for years and gave a deposition in the 1990s about what killed fish in the river back then — sodium sulfates dumped by the plant that mixed with natural copper, forming copper sulfate.
    This time, it was sodium hydroxide and sulfuric acid that were not properly handled that caused the May 2011 fish kill, he said.
    “Sodium hydroxide is supposed to be put in the holding pond and sulfuric acid added to it, mixed, to (neutralize it and) change it to sodium sulfate, which is found naturally in  the river,” he said. “The waste treatment operator did not follow procedure (and mix the two before dumping).”
    The EPD investigation found that King America did not have a working alarm system to alert workers should the pH of the effluent become imbalanced.
    The EPD’s investigation revealed that the plant also violated discharge permits by releasing chemicals in unacceptable levels of concentration; by not conducting testing and reporting as required; and by not having adequate wastewater treatment procedures, said EPD spokesman Kevin Chambers.
    “During our investigation, it was discovered that the company had added a fire retardant treatment process that generated wastewater, which was ultimately discharged to the Ogeechee River in violation of their permit,” he said. “Once EPD became aware of the unauthorized discharge, the company ceased operation (of the flame retardant line).”
    Hunter said if the plant wastewater management workers had mixed the chemical correctly, the sodium hydroxide and sulfuric acid would not have been found in Ogeechee River water samples taken after the fish kill.
    “I’m here today to find out how many of you would like to join me in a suit against King America, and the EPD and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency),” he said. This was followed by raucous applause and yells from the audience. Hunter asked people to sign up at a nearby table if interested.
    Wedincamp said the Ogeechee Riverkeeper Organization continues to monitor the river, and the EPD has said it also conducts weekly testing and inspections at the textiles plant.
    She said a “discovery paddle” in the river Sunday morning before the meeting resulted in very few fish seen in the shallow river, which is lower than many have seen it in years due to the drought.
    “We did not see hardly any fish,” she said. “Just a few pockets of gar. No wildlife — absolutely nothing.”
    Citizens need to help make sure, if the $1 million consent order stands, the money is not spent for beautification projects, but for real environmental clean-up.
    “It has to be spent for that — every penny — to undo the damage. And, that’s not enough,” she said. “This consent order does not resolve (the pollution of the river). It only points out how bad it really is.”
    She said King America should also be held responsible for testing river-area citizens’ well water, which can cost from $500 to $700 for each test.
    She urged people to contact their state representatives and Gov. Nathan Deal to put pressure on the issue, adding that the EPD and EPA have failed to do justice.
    “The Department of Natural Resources are the only ones who have really done their job,” she said. “Our EPD did not do their job. They have not done their job since the plant opened and are not doing their jobs now.”
     Don Stack, attorney working for the Ogeechee Riverkeeper, also urged citizens to help support the ORK by donating, and to keep the issue on the front burner by contacting government officials.
    “Enough of this crap,” he said. “Enough of the dumping, enough of the EPD putting up with these violations. This is a known criminal violation of the law, and it’s time to ask the federal government to step in.”
    After the meeting, Mary Terrell, Dennis Hines and Bruce Mosley were found at their property along the river at Steel Bridge landing on Ga. 119.
    Usually crowded with swimmers and fishermen, no one else was at the landing Sunday. A few dogs splashed in the shallow water that trickled around sandbars.
    “We’ve never seen it this low,” Terrell said. “And I never saw so many fish die like they did in May. A million dollars is not enough. I laughed when I heard that.”
    King America spokesman Lee Dehines did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment Monday.
    Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.

Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter