One by one, speakers told state Environmental Protection Division representatives that the agency wasn’t doing its job and the pollution of the Ogeechee River had to stop.
The EPD held a public hearing Tuesday night at Effingham County High School on a proposed consent order for King America Finishing, and those in attendance blasted both the company and the state agency.
“Your job is to protect the environment,” said Connie Hayes. “Yet you have repeatedly allowed a corporation from another state with no allegiance to Georgia or its people come into the area and recklessly or criminally destroy a once pristine body of water. A silly little fine of $1 million is laughable at best.”
Speakers from the crowd of more than 100 lambasted the proposed consent order, saying it doesn’t do anything to alleviate or redress what has happened to the Ogeechee River.
They also reiterated their opposition to any discharge from King America Finishing into the river.
“We want the pipe out of the river,” said Al Driggers. “We don’t want no more poison dumped in.”
Said Connie Shreve: “We don’t want King America Finishing to dump into our river anymore.”
“We do not need any more discharge into the river,” said former Effingham County commissioner Hubert Sapp.
More than 38,000 fish died in an unprecedented May 2011 fish kill. Dead fish were found downstream of King America’s discharge pipe into the river. No dead fish were found upstream of the pipe. A bacteria, columnaris, was cited as the reason for the fish kill, and columnaris can be caused by environmental stress.
Residents and property owners along the Ogeechee have held the Screven County-based textiles plant responsible for the fish kill and said its effects have continued nearly two years later. EPD assistant director Jim Ussery and Bruce Foisy, acting district manager of the EPD’s Coastal District office in Brunswick, also faced stern criticism from the speakers.
“If this happened in your backyard,” Albert Strickland said to EPD officials, “you’d be sitting out here.”
Said Annette Wilson: “If you had property on this river, what would you do?”
The EPD discovered that the plant had established a production line that had not been permitted, and the plant’s discharge permit had lapsed. Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Judge John R. Turner overturned last August a ruling by a state administrative law judge that stated the Ogeechee Riverkeeper did not have standing to sue the EPD.
“KAF has knowingly had unpermitted production lines illegally discharging wastewater into the Ogeechee River for nearly seven years,” said Ogeechee Riverkeeper executive director Emily Markesteyn. “Once EPD was made aware of this illegal discharge, they should have stopped it. Unfortunately, EPD has conceded to KAF. EPD is allowing KAF to continue discharging without a permit. KAF’s actions are an egregious assault upon our natural resources.”
Read more in the March 9 edition of the News.