WASHINGTON, Ga. — A Georgia dairy farm has been fined after a release of food waste caused a fish kill, a rare instance of government getting involved with a practice that counties can't regulate despite chronic complaints from residents.
WAGA-TV reports the Georgia Environmental Protection Division fined McAvoy Farms, also known as Mar Leta Farms, $5,000 after nearly 1,700 fish died in the Little River in Wilkes County on June 16.
The division found that 1.2 million gallons of sludge and other food byproducts overflowed a lagoon into a farm pond and then to a creek over a six-week period.
Farmers accept the byproducts as what's called a soil amendment, which can be used in place of traditional fertilizer. But critics call it industrial waste because it's made up of byproducts from poultry and other food processing plants, waste such as chicken blood or water used to rinse equipment.
"Really, this is not to us a farm product," Wilkes County Commission Chairman Sam Moore told the television station. "This is an industrial waste product that they're really dumping on these rural counties."
Farmers are often paid to accept the byproducts. At McAvoy Farms, records show the waste came from Nestle Purina's pet food plant in Hartwell, where the liquid had been used to clean and rinse tanks and equipment.
Jeff Johnson, a Wilkes County neighbor of the dairy farm, said the smell is putrid, makes his eyes waters and has attracted a plague of flies.
"It's like you washed out the bottom of a trash can," he said. "A very foul trash can."
Johnson said it's the first time he's had to put out fly traps and fly strips in the 23 years he's lived there.
State rules require a soil amendment be tilled under the soil within an hour of application, but Johnson said it was sprayed onto fields and left to run off.
"If it had been plowed in, there wouldn't be much of an issue at all," he said. "But it wasn't done that way from the very beginning."
The state ordered the farm to stop taking the material and remove "all liquids and sludge from the tributaries on your property." The farm did not respond to a request for comment.
Moore and Oglethorpe County Commission Chairman Jay Paul said complaints about soil amendment are the top complaint they get from constituents in the neighboring counties east of Athens. They also say they're worried because they don't know what's in the waste.
"If this stuff has such value to it, why they having to truck it 60, 80, 100 miles away and a couple hours away and sometimes pay people to take it?" asked Paul.
But local governments can't regulate where soil amendments are sprayed. That's strictly a state matter.
A Department of Agriculture spokesperson said the state does not track locations, only which companies are allowed to provide the soil amendment.