A massive fish kill along a 40-mile stretch of the Ogeechee River is puzzling environmentalists, who have closed public landings and are awaiting test results to learn the cause.
Georgia Department of Natural Resources Environmental Protection Division spokesman Keith Chambers said public landings were closed Sunday in Screven and Bulloch counties, and said the fish kill is possibly affecting Bryan, Effingham and Chatham counties as well.
Monday, authorities investigated King America Finishing, a fabric-finishing plant in Dover, about 15 miles from Sylvania in Screven County that is located on the river.
Chambers said the investigation found no violations at the plant, but Ogeechee River Keeper Diane Wedincamp says the fish kill originates at the site of the plant’s discharge site.
The majority of dead fish were found in Screven, she said. Thousands have been found south of the King America discharge site, but none at all were found north of the site, she said.
“That’s a big issue there,” she said. “We have to determine whether (the King America site) has anything to do with it.”
Chambers said Monday the Screven County plant was “in order” and that there was “no reason to believe it is connected to the fish kill. We can rule out King Finishing.”
Wedincamp says she received the information about the EPD’s findings that the plant is cleared, but still questions why the fish kill appears to have originated at the plant’s discharge site.
“My investigations led me to the discharge point in Screven County, which is King America,” she said. “We followed dead fish to the discharge point where the EPD has given them permission to discharge.”
Phone calls to King America were not immediately returned Monday.
Chambers and Wedincamp both said samples of dead fish tissue, sediment and water have been sent for testing. Wedincamp said the samples were sent to laboratories outside of Georgia.
Bulloch County Public Safety Director Ted Wynn said Bulloch County Sheriff’s deputies distributed warning fliers to private land owners along the river, and county workers installed concrete barriers at the public landings, with warnings posted to stay out of the water and not eat fish caught in the river.
Until the cause of the fish kill is determined, it is better to err on the side of caution, he said.
Deborah Thompson and her family own property in Bulloch County along the Ogeechee River a few miles from Rocky Ford. She went to investigate Sunday after learning about the fish kill.
“It sounds like they have an issue,” she said. “We all want to be cautious, and I can understand (closing river landings) because they want to be 100 percent certain” that being in the river or eating fish is safe.
She and her family saw no evidence of the fish kill, but did see a number of fish swimming near the surface at both her private landing and at the Rocky Ford bridge, she said.
Charlene Driggers Beasley is concerned about the reason for the fish dying because she and her family were in the river over the weekend, before learning of the situation.
“We got to the river on U.S. 301 North around noon and stayed until 5:30 p.m.,” she said. “When we first got there we saw one or two fish dead, but we thought someone had just emptied their cooler of fish, so it didn’t bother us. We continued to swim ... there were so many people down there … especially children. As the day went by, fish would swim up to you, which is not normal.”
Both she and Thompson had heard there were alligators found dead as well, but Chambers said he was unfamiliar with any alligators being affected.
Wedincamp said she knew of one dead alligator being found, but said there was no proof of how it died. “It could have been shot,” she said.
However, she and other environmentalists concerned with the situation are watching wildlife, including birds that have feasted upon the thousands of dead fish that have floated to the banks of the river, she said.
Chambers said results from the testing are expected later this week, possibly by Wednesday.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.