Ogeechee Riverkeeper Dianna Wedincamp is stepping down after 10 years of service in order to pursue other interests, but the fight for a pristine Ogeechee River will continue.
Wedincamp is leaving the organization to start an independent environmental consulting firm with her husband, Dr. Jim Wedincamp, according to a release issued by the Ogeechee Riverkeeper organization.
“I want to start my own consulting firm, working with environmental and pollution issues,” Wedincamp said Tuesday. She said she also will be working on issues such as environmental analysis and other things, but “they will all be environment related.”
She was a founding board member of Canoochee Riverkeeper and became a staff member when the organization became the Ogeechee Riverkeeper. She was later named to the Riverkeeper position.
One of her largest challenges has been the pollution issue linked to King America Finishing, a textiles plant in Dover that has been the center of focus since a May 2011 fish kill that scattered about 38,000 dead fish along over 70 miles of the Ogeechee, all downriver from the plant.
“As a result, Ogeechee Riverkeeper took legal action that was followed by the state’s revocation of King America’s permit,” according to the release posted on the Ogeechee Riverkeeper website.
An investigation by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division led to the discovery that King America had been operating without a permit for several years, discharging waste into the river illegally. EPD issued a consent order demanding the company fund $1 million in river improvements, but under fire from public protest that the demands were not stringent enough punishment, rescinded the order and has proposed a stronger option.
The fish kill, followed by a smaller one about a year later, was determined to be caused by columnaris, a bacterial disease caused by environmental stress. Wedincamp and others have blamed ammonia, formaldehyde and other chemicals poured into the river through King America’s discharge pipes as being the cause of the environmental stress.
During the struggle to clean up the Ogeechee, Wedincamp brought internationally recognized environmental activist Erin Brockovich to the area last month to meet with land owners and other citizens concerned with the river’s pollution from chemicals discharged by King America into the Ogeechee’s waters.
“A Riverkeeper is a position that takes energy, passion, dedication and an open mind that requires the ability to work with people from all walks of life. These are all qualities Dianna has shown throughout the past 10 years,” said Ann Hartzell, the chairwoman of the Ogeechee Riverkeeper’s Board of Directors. “We will miss Dianna, but we know that she has been an inspiration for so many who will follow in her footsteps.”
“This was a hard decision to make,” Wedincamp said, “but I know that it is the right decision. As Riverkeeper, I have worked hard to keep the issues alive and address all who are affected. However, none of my work would have been possible without the countless others who fight the tireless fight every day, standing up for our right to clean water and clean air in our communities and across the state. I salute you for all your hard work. My passion remains strong for continuing this work as I begin the next stage of my career.”
Ben Anderson, a land owner who is involved in one of several civil suits against King America that claim property values and uses have been adversely affected by the textile plant’s discharges into the river, said he is sad to see Wedincamp leave but supports her decision.
He feels her stepping down won’t affect the battle to end the river pollution.
“I think Dianna did such a good job, and the fight will go on,” he said. “We will still have a Riverkeeper. I have lots of faith in the attorneys (Don Stack and Associates, who represents the Ogeechee Riverkeeper), they are doing a good job. “
Stack said that while Wedincamp will be missed, the efforts to clean up the river and stop the King America discharge will continue.
“I don’t think things will change,” he said. “Dianna will still be working with us. I hate to see her leave, but it’s not just Dianna – we have the Ogeechee Riverkeeper board, and everyone is committed to (the cause).”
Emily Markesteyn, the Ogeechee Riverkeeper’s executive director, will serve as interim Riverkeeper until someone is named to the position.
“I wish Emily Markesteyn and everyone at Ogeechee Riverkeeper all the best and will continue to support this critical work which is needed now more than ever,” Wedincamp said. “The job is a very demanding job, but a great job to have. It is very rewarding. I’ll miss it, but I’m still going to be around.”
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.