EPD will accept written comments until the close of business on May 15. Comments may be mailed to the Environmental Protection Division at 4220 International Parkway, Suite 101, Atlanta, Georgia 30354, Attention: Jane Hendricks, or sent via email to EPDcomments@dnr.state.ga.us, with the words "NPDES permit reissuance King America Finishing (Dover Screven County)" in the subject line.
SPRINGFIELD — Anger, concern for the environment and frustration were evident Tuesday night as residents attended a hearing regarding the Ogeechee River and a proposed permit allowing an industry to continue discharging wastewater into the river.
About 200 people attended the hearing held by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division at Effingham County High School. It wasn’t the first time for many; several people who spoke mentioned they had attended numerous EPD hearings regarding the Ogeechee River since a May 2011 fish kill left about 38,000 dead fish scattered along 70 miles of the river downstream of King America Finishing, a textiles plant in Dover, Screven County, that has been blamed for the fish kill and other river pollution issues.
EPD water qualities program manager Jane Hendricks read a statement at the beginning of the hearing, explaining that EPD rescinded an earlier draft permit for King America to discharge into the Ogeechee, citing public outcry and litigation appealing the permit.
Tuesday’s hearing was to seek public comment on a revised draft permit with more stringent mandates. As she read the statement, Hendricks said EPD has “limited ability to deny” permits, drawing several angry comments from the crowd.
King America has been operating without a permit for about seven years, an oversight by EPD that has riverfront property owners and others questioning the agency’s efficiency.
“I think the EPD should be deleted,” said Connie Shreve, who owns a riverside canoe rental business. “Y’all are not doing your jobs.”
Ogeechee Riverkeeper Emily Markesteyn urged EPD officials: “Do not issue it as written; it’s time for you to get this permit right. A hastily written one is … not acceptable.”
Residents expressed concern about foam, discoloration and lack of thriving wildlife along the river. They said health risks, property devaluation and other environmental issues are unacceptable.
“The EPD gives (companies seeking discharge permits) too long to comply and then allows extensions,” said Wayne Carney, a riverside property owner. He tossed a copy of the draft permit onto a nearby stage. “This is what it is worth — trash.”
Al Driggers was passionate in his demand to not issue the permit.
“Every meeting we’ve been to, we’ve said no. Why don’t you understand no! We don’t want it, understand that?”
Connie Hayes and her husband, Jim, both questioned whether King America’s contract with the military has anything to do with EPD’s apparent reluctance to end the company’s discharge. The Ogeechee River has been contaminated since King America’s plant opened, she said.
Property owner Hubert Sapp, who said he has been on the river for 67 years, challenged EPD to compare water quality reports from 50 years ago to today’s reports. Another property owner, Benjie Anderson, passionately and loudly demanded that EPD officials explain why there were no dead fish found upstream of the plant when the fish kill occurred.
“We had drought conditions all the way to Hancock County (where the river originates),” he said, disputing EPD’s claim that environmental conditions caused the columnaris bacterial infection that killed the fish. “I’m tired of all the lies. I want the PED to tell me why we didn’t have columnaris above the pipe.”
EPD officials did not answer questions Tuesday night, but said they plan to answer public questions by email or letter.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.