A $5,000 reward is being offered for information proving responsibility for the massive fish kill that left thousands of dead and rotting on the banks of the Ogeechee River last month.
Ogeechee Riverkeeper Dianna Wedincamp announced the reward Sunday during a citizen’s meeting at Dasher’s Landing in Blitchton. A second meeting is planned tonight at 7 p.m. at Effingham County Middle School, where local legislators plan to question officials from the Environmental Protection Division.
Wedincamp said a concerned citizen, who she did not name, donated the $5,000 reward.
Hundreds of people gathered at the landing, fanning gnats in the heat while she spoke. She told the group water samples taken from the river showed extremely high levels of sodium, sulfates and a high pH level. The samples were taken from a spot near an industrial discharge pipe six miles north of Dover.
The textiles industry, King America Finishing, is under investigation by the Environmental Protection Division regarding possible responsibility for river pollution, said EPD spokesman Kevin Chambers. An inspection May 23 found no
obvious violations, but the investigation of King America Finishing is still ongoing,” he said.
The fish kill has been ruled a result of a bacterial infection called columnaris, but that disease is caused by environmental stress, Wedincamp said.
“We know that is was stress, but what caused that stress?” she said.
Water tested south of the King America discharge pipe had about “500 parts per million of sodium,” while water tested north of the site contained only 2.74 parts per million, she said.
The water’s pH level was 10.74, unusually high. A normal pH level would be from 3.5 to 6.5, she said.
After the fish kill was reported May 20, Wedincamp and her crew investigated. She found dead fish about 200 yards below the discharge pipe, but none north of it, she said.
William Joe Hunter, who has been monitoring the Ogeechee River and the impact of industry on the river since 1965, said Spartan Mills purchased land along the river from his family in 1965. The company later sold to King Finishing, which closed several years ago. Then, King America Finishing reopened the textiles plant a few years later, he said.
Hunter said there have been fish kills in the river, along the same area, before. Then, fish had sores and deteriorated fins, like the dead fish displayed during the recent fish kill, he said.
He urged citizens to band together and take legal action against the company he feels is responsible, although there has been no proof of violation or responsibility against anyone.
“I would suggest we form a committee and get it on,” he said.
Wedincamp said Atlanta attorney Edwin Hallman, of Hallman and Wingate firm, has agreed to take on the case. Hallman was not immediately available for comment Monday.
During the public meeting Sunday, Wedincamp criticized the Environmental Protection Division, which had no representative at the meeting. She said she was unhappy when swimming and fish consumption bans were lifted before anyone learned the exact cause of the fish kill. “I thought that was a backwards way to do things,” she said.
“We don’t know if it’s safe to go in the water. We don’t know what was spilled, and we don’t know that it’s gone,” she said.
David Gay, who owns land in Screven County near the U.S. 30 bridge near Dover, also addressed the crowd.
He said he was likely the first to report the fish kill after some of his employees noted the dead fish Thursday, May 19. When they went back Friday, there was “an astronomical amount” of dead and dying fish, he said.
He collected water samples and took them to a South Carolina lab, while others sent sampled to labs in Jacksonville, Fla., he said, adding he planned to wait until after the EPD released its findings to divulge what his test results returned.
“It is very strange that 20 yards above the (industrial discharge pipe) you catch fish. There is something between this (location) and the U.S. 301 bridge.”
Wayne Carrey, a concerned citizen who organized Sunday’s meeting, expressed concern about the lack of fish in the river after the kill.
“There are hardly no fish,” he said.
“There are some suckers and gar fish, but I have only seen one bream bed in a week.”
He urged citizens to continue the push for answers. “We need change now, not six months from now, not five years from now,” he said. “Don’t give up. We’ve got to fight to the end. We’ve got us a small army going here.”
State Representatives Jon Burns (R-Newington), Ann Purcell (R-Rincon), and Jan Tankersley (R-Brooklet), along with State Senators Jack Hill (R-Reidsville) also attended Sunday’s meeting.
“The Ogeechee River is one of our most popular natural resources and we don’t need to see our river suffer,” Tankersley said. “We’re dedicated to working on resolving this.”
Burns urged citizens at Sunday’s gathering to attend tonight’s meeting. “Certainly this is an issue of utmost importance to all of you and all of us,” he said.”We will pose some questions to the EPD and hopefully get some answers.”
Hill said he would push for restocking the Ogeechee as well as find out reasons for the fish kill. “This is a terrible thing that has happened. We’re not going to stop until we find out what really happened.”
Wedincamp urged citizens to write EPD and EPA officials and make official complaints, adding that an emailed complaint can be recorded and printed out as proof of its existence.
“Call your state representatives, US representatives,” she said. “Hopefully we can get national attention” for the Ogeechee River situation. “I said call, but I meant write.”
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.