More dead fish were found Friday in the Ogeechee River, and environmentalists await test results to find out the reason they died. Public safety advisories to refrain from fishing or swimming in the river remain in place.
Bulloch County Public Safety Director Ted Wynn discussed the issue Friday on a conference call with representatives from the Environmental Protection Division, Department of Natural Resources, Georgia Emergency Management and other EMA directors.
“EPD advised that several more fish had been found today,” he said. “They will continue to monitor the river throughout the weekend. Samples of fish and water are at testing facilities and we can expect some results next week, probably around Thursday. The advisory remains in effect until we hear from these tests. “
A local textiles company that discharges waste into the river issued a press release Friday denying any responsibility for the fish deaths.
The letter from Lee Lehihns III, attorney for King America Finishing in Dover, read in part: “…King America Finishing was informed by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) … (of) a report of dead fish near the intersection of Highway 301 and the Ogeechee River. Within 20 minutes of receiving the notification, King America Finishing personnel met EPD staff at the Highway 301 bridge and observed only living, thriving fish.”
However, Tim Barrett, a regional supervisor with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said Thursday dead fish were collected at the U.S. 301 bridge site.
No dead fish were located north of the King America discharge pipe, but seven dead fish – redbreast, shiners, a pirate perch and a crawfish – were found downriver at the Ga. 24 landing near Oliver Thursday, he said.
Five more dead fish were collected at the Ga. 24/Oliver bridge site Friday, including a largemouth bass, said EPD spokesman Kevin Chambers.
The King America discharge pipe is only a few miles from U.S 301.
“The company has since learned from EPD that dead minnows, fish, and crawfish have been found several miles from its facility,” the statement read. “The company has no reason to believe these or any subsequently reported deaths are in any way related to its ongoing efforts to protect the Ogeechee River.
In the statement, Lehihns said the company has been testing waters since July beyond what is required, and “…weekly monitoring of the river 25 feet upstream and downstream of its discharge pipe … has found no high-levels of threatening chemicals.”
Ogeechee Riverkeeper Dianna Wedincamp said recent tests conducted by her organization showed high levels of formaldehyde and ammonia.
EPD investigations after the first report of dead fish Tuesday found no violations, Chambers said.
Last Memorial Day weekend, about 38,000 fish floated to the surface for miles along the river. Public safety officials issued advisories against fishing or swimming in the river, and tests then showed high levels of formaldehyde and ammonia.
The cause of death of those fish was ruled to be columnaris, a bacterial disease caused by environmental stress. The river’s water levels were low, and Wedincamp said last year she believed the discharge from King America Finishing contributed to the stress that caused the columnaris outbreak.
Environmental Protection Division agents who conducted investigations in 2011 determined that King America was in violation of discharge permits, and issued a $1 million consent order for river improvements to be paid by the company.
The Ogeechee Riverkeeper Organization filed an appeal to the order, and hearings are pending.
“King America Finishing remains firmly committed to working closely with the EPD to ensure the safety of wildlife and residents along the river,” Lehihn’s statement read. “The company will continue its efforts to maintain water quality standards and protect the river from future harm.”
Wedincamp issued a statement Friday as well, expressing concern about the river’s condition.
“One year ago, the Ogeechee River experienced the worst fish kill in the state of Georgia's history,” she said. “As we approach another Memorial Day weekend, we are saddened to find more dead fish in the river.
“At this point, officials do not have a cause for the deaths, but Bulloch, Effingham and Screven County Emergency Management Agencies have issued a swimming and fishing advisory for the Ogeechee River.
Should citizens discover dead fish, Wedincamp urges them to report the findings to the Georgia EPD (1-888-373-5947) or to her organization, Ogeechee Riverkeeper (1-866-942-6222 ext. 3).
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.