The Ogeechee Riverkeeper organization held its annual gala over the weekend with a fete at Fort McAllister State Historic Park — a fitting location along the banks of the river itself. Despite the evening’s less-than-desirable weather, the event was a hit by all accounts. Good food, good music, good company and a worthy cause seemed to help turn the soggy conditions into just another part of the fun.
The annual gala is the organization’s chance to let its hair down, so to speak, and give everyone a pat on the back for all the hard work they’ve done during the year before. The pat on the back is well-deserved, as the Ogeechee Riverkeeper has had its work cut out for itself in recent years. Who can forget the fish kill in May of 2011, when somewhere around 38,000 bloated and sore-pocked fish floated to the river’s surface along 70 miles of the Ogeechee?
The Ogeechee Riverkeeper, for one, certainly hasn’t forgotten. It has been fighting to bring stricter regulations against King America Finishing — the Dover-based textiles plant believed responsible for the fish kills and much of the pollution in this end of the river — for things like discharging into the river without a state permit since 2007.
That’s not to say the river was pristine prior to 2011. Fish were unsafe to eat because of high levels of mercury contamination, and there have been scores of industries and municipal wastewater treatment plants discharging —with permits — into the river for a long time. But the massive fish kill two years ago should have served as a wakeup call to state regulators for tougher controls — something the Ogeechee Riverkeeper has been calling for since its inception more than a decade ago.
We believe it’s important to protect the river, as well as all of our natural resources, on moral grounds — we need to leave something for the generations still to come — and because it makes sense economically. The Ogeechee is part of a natural ecosystem that is often cited by folks as an economic driver. People move here or come here in part because of the natural beauty, which makes the river and all that goes with it our very own golden goose.
But the Riverkeeper can’t do the work it does without the help of the public, be it through financial support or through volunteer work. We hope residents here and in the surrounding areas will get behind the organization in any way they can. The Ogeechee Riverkeeper’s is a noble cause and the outcomes of its battles will certainly be felt in Bryan County.