Hundreds of concerned citizens gathered Sunday to discuss the recent Ogeechee River fish kill. The crowd met at Dasher's Landing near Blitchton to hear from legislators and talk about the river's pollution.
The meeting came two days after a band was lifted on eating fish caught in the Ogeechee, a week after a ban was lifted on swimming in the river and two weeks after a massive fish kill left thousands of dead fish on the banks of the south Georgia blackwater river.
While Dianna Wedincamp with the Ogeechee Riverkeeper, a handful of state representatives and Sen. Jack Hill attended the citizen-organized meeting, no one representing the Georgia Department of Natural Resources of its Environmental Protection Division was there.
Fanning gnats and dipping into coolers of iced bottled water, the crowd listened to legislators promise they would be involved.
"The Ogeechee River is one of our most pristine natural resources," state Rep. Jan Tankersley said. "We don't need to see our river suffer. I may be new to you (as a recently-elected freshman representative) but I'm not new to the Ogeechee."
As a person who grew up "fishing, tubing and swimming" on the river, Tankersley vowed to pursue the issue to help find answers and a solution to the pollution.
So did state Rep. Jon Burns.
"Certainly this is an issue of utmost importance," he said.
He invited the crowd to attend a meeting of government officials Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Effingham County Middle School off Ga. 119. Representatives from the Georgia DNR and EPD are expected to attend, he said.
"We will pose some questions to the EPD and hopefully get some answers," Burn said.
William Joe Hunter, an 85-year-old man who said he has studied the river and its pollutants since 1965, shared his opinions on reasons for the recent fish kill and compared it to a similar incident that occurred 45 years ago.
He encouraged citizens to band together and suggested legal action to discover who is responsible for river pollution.
Wedincamp said tests results returned from some samples indicated especially high levels of sodium, sulfates, and sodium hydroxide (lye) in the river water, and said the ph was extremely high.
She said in spite of government officials lifting bans on swimming in and eating fish from the Ogeechee, she recommends refraining from doing either until more is known about reasons for the fish kill.
Tests have proven the fish died from columnaris, a bacteria caused by environmental stress, she said. "But we don't know the cause of that stress."
(For more in-depth coverage of Sunday's Ogeechee River citizens meeting, see Tuesday's Statesboro Herald.)
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.