As was advertised, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division came to the Midway Civic Center Wednesday looking for public input on how they should study the Laurel View River, where a wastewater treatment plant has been proposed.
They certainly got what they asked for as the 100-plus attendees let their voices be heard.
The extended study was ordered after public protest in January moved EPD to take a closer look at the discharge permit Liberty County Development Authority requested for the $30 million wastewater plant at Midway’s Tradeport East industrial park. Many residents have expressed concern that the plant’s discharge could harm the fragile ecosystem along the Bryan and Liberty coast.
Many in attendance expressed frustration on why the plant is being considered in the first place. Several of the comments displayed a distrust with the EPD, even accusing them of conspiring with the LCDA to permit the project despite the potential environmental dangers.
"Why should I have to worry about the effects to my property of someone flushing a toilet in Liberty County?" asked Jimmy Norris, who lives on the Bryan coast. "If you ask me, this is all just a formality before rubber stamping this project."
"We’re not trying to hide anything," said Dr. Elizabeth Booth, an EPD scientist who presented the study plan at the meeting.
Booth said she and her crew plan to conduct a two-month study on the river in order to help the EPD assess how the discharge from the proposed plant may affect the area. Among the tactics planned are injecting dye into the river to observe the path of the current, attaching yard sticks to several docks along the river to record water levels, collecting rainfall data and gathering water quality depth profiles.
Booth also said the EPD will be working with the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography (SkIO) throughout the study. SkIO scientist Dr. Dana Savage, however, said Booth’s current model is not sufficient.
Savage said the EPD’s model wrongly assumes water will neatly go in and out of a definite creek.
She said some spillage will go in the entire marsh and a three-dimensional modeling system is really needed. Savage also said a study period of one year would be necessary in order to study the area during all seasons.
Booth said most of Savage’s suggestions apply to a transport model, not the water quality model that the EPD was presenting.
However, she said the EPD plans to meet with SkIO next week to further explore SkIO ’s data. She also said she is open to extending the study period.
Coastal Estuary Protection Association members Roy Hubbard and Brice Ladson said a closer working relationship between the EPD and SkIO is crucial for the study.
"One of the main concerns is the lack of confidence in the EPD to do the work," Hubbard said. "The EPD needs to admit they need some help. SkIO knows this area and this coastline. If SkIO says it’s good, then we’re good."
Hubbard, Booth and Savage all agreed the study is important not only for this product but also to create a better understanding of the ecology and hydrology of the Laurel View River basin and the surrounding area.
LCDA CEO Ron Tolley, who attended the meeting, said he understands the need for a further study and is confident in the EPD’s study.
"We don’t claim to be scientists," Tolley said. "Most of the individuals on the authority have lived here most of their lives and care deeply about this community. The EPD is charged with protecting the environment, and we’re confident that they will conduct a proper study."
Written comments are being accepted until June 5.
Address comments to: Jeffrey Larson, Assistant Branch Chief, Watershed Protection Branch, Environmental Protection Division, 4220 International Parkway, Suite 101, Atlanta, Georgia 30354.
The Laurel View River Study Plan is available for review on EPD’s website at www.gaepd.org/Documents/laurel_view_study_plan.html.