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House bill to seek more protection for rivers
Proposed legislation wants faster response from Georgia EPD
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A state representative has filed a bill in the Georgia House that attempts to force the state’s Department of Natural Resources’ Environmental Protection Division to do what it should already be doing — responding to toxic spills in Georgia’s rivers, and fast.
Rep. Jon Burns, R-Newington, represents Screven County, home of the King America Finishing textiles plant that has caught the blame for the devastating fish kill of May 2011 in the Ogeechee River. Burns testified in a subcommittee meeting at the state Capitol last week that the incident was not an anomaly, but one of many across the state in which a significant spill was not met with a timely response by the EPD.
Burns cited poor communication with local and state agencies, the need for additional specialized training and a general lack of governmental coordination as fundamental problems that have endangered water resources and public health.
Citizen witnesses from across the state told similar stories about spills that devastated their river communities. Large, preventable spills.
“If you want to bring your kid to fish, don’t come to Briar Creek. There’s no fish there now,” Patrick Lord, who lives on Briar Creek, a long blackwater river that parallels the Ogeechee, told members of the subcommittee.
He recounted his horror the day the water suddenly turned white, changing his back yard paradise within minutes.
“The stench is something I will never forget,” he said.  
That spill, later attributed to a kaolin facility, resulted in a fish kill of more than 12,000 in January of 2012.
House Bill 549 will not become law this year. Filed after the 30th day of the legislative session, it missed the deadline for crossover day and therefore died.
The bill, which would require the EPD to investigate an incident within a 24-hour time period and notify other agencies and the public of any health risks subsequent to that investigation, is otherwise noticeably vague. Perhaps that is because the bill is more of a message than a legislative litany.

Read more in the March 23 edition of the News.

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