Sen. Jack Hill wants a textiles industry to pay for testing, studies and publication of findings regarding the Ogeechee River into which the company dumps wastewater.
King America Finishing Inc. was found last year to be in violation of several permits and has been accused of causing a major fish kill in May. The Environmental Protection Division released its findings after a lengthy investigation and issued a consent order against the company, demanding it pay $1 million to fund Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) as a penalty for permit and environmental violations.
However, Ogeechee Riverkeeper Dianna Wedincamp and hundreds of citizens protested, voicing the opinion that the $1 million was not enough
punishment. After several public meetings, the Ogeechee Riverkeeper Organization filed an appeal regarding the consent order, which will be heard Jan. 23.
While Hill wrote a letter to EPD Director Jud Turner asking that certain requirements be met by King America, Wedincamp is
asking citizens to voice their concerns as well and ask the EPD to hold a public hearing on a recent draft permit King America submitted to continue discharging waste into the river.
In a recent email to supporters, she wrote: “Ogeechee Riverkeeper has posted the King America Finishing draft permit to discharge wastewater in the Ogeechee River. Attorneys are viewing the permit.”
The organization is asking citizens to “call, email and fax EPD and their local and state representatives requesting a public hearing,” she said.
The “draft permit isn't acceptable.”
Both the draft permit and Hill’s letter to the EPD can be viewed on the Statesboro Herald website at www.statesboroherald.com.
In his letter, Hill asks the EPD to require that King America secure “third party testing of areas of the river that were affected by the fish kill in May … funded by the industry in the area for a period of time to ensure and restore public confidence in the testing process.”
He also asks on behalf of other members of the legislative delegation in the Ogeechee River area as well as himself, that EPD require the industry to publish the test results on the Internet.
He stated legislators intend to look into designating the Ogeechee River as a “ ’Wild and Scenic River’ under state law to (e)nsure the recreational purposes” of the river.
“We propose that EPD seek to improve response time to future spills and emergencies and report on measures taken,” he stated.
It was several days after the fish kill was first reported before the EPD had local public safety divisions close river landings. Many citizens who spent time in the river over the weekend after the fish kill was first reported claimed illness from contact with the water, although no illnesses were proven to be caused by the water.
However, several citizens filed a class action suit against King America Finishing. Some claimed they suffered blisters and rashes; others reported respiratory illness and yet others in the suit claim their property use and value was compromised by the spill of chemicals into the river.
Just south of the location where King America discharges wastewater into the river, the banks are stained bluish black. When the fish kill was first reported, Wedincamp and rangers from the Department of Natural Resources investigated and found no dead or dying fish north of the discharge site.
About 38,000 fish were found dead along the Ogeechee River for more than 70 miles south of the discharge site, according to reports.
The cause of the fish kill was determined to be columnaris, a bacterial disease caused by environmental stress. Some citizens at public meetings about the river’s condition, including Wedincamp, claimed the stress was caused by chemicals dumped into the river.
Investigations by EPD officials, as well as private test results, showed high levels of chemicals including formaldehyde and ammonia in the river waters south of King Finishing.
Hill stated in his letter that legislators also support “contracting with Georgia Southern University” for studies and testing, as well as “continued testing of fish and other seafood from the river,” with those results being posted on the Internet as well.
The letter is signed by Sen. Buddy Carter, Sen. Jesse Stone and state Representatives Ron Stephens, Jon Burns, Ann Purcell and Jan Tankersley.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.