October 21-- The following information is furnished by the environmental group Ogeechee RiverKeeper.
Ogeechee Riverkeeper Challenges State Handling of Fish Kill
Lawsuit Highlights State’s Inability to Protect Georgia’s Rivers
ATLANTA – Just days after yet another fish kill on a Georgia river threatened public water supplies, Ogeechee Riverkeeper, represented by the public interest law firm, GreenLaw, filed a legal challenge to the state environmental agency’s handling of the largest fish kill in state history. In May 2011, more than 33,000 fish turned up dead in the Ogeechee River. Public health advisories were also issued warning local citizens not to use the river.
In September 2011, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) entered into an agreement, called a “Consent Order,” with King America Finishing, Inc., a textile manufacturing facility located on the Ogeechee River in Screven County, Georgia. The Order followed an investigation which found that the fish kill started 50 yards downstream of King Finishing’s discharge pipe. The investigation also found a host of other problems at the facility including, most egregiously, that the facility had started two unpermitted production lines which were discharging into the Ogeechee River.
While the Order will require King Finishing to spend $1 million on an unspecified “supplemental environmental project,” it does not require the company to pay a penalty, nor does it require that it cover the costs for the restocking of the fish in the river which was conducted by the state last month. Presumably, state taxpayers will be responsible for picking up that bill. The Order also allows the company to continue the unpermitted discharge of pollutants from the manufacturing line, although both state and federal law prohibit discharging into waterways without a permit. Adding insult to injury, the public has been given no opportunity for input into any of the Order’s terms.
"EPD left us with no choice but to file this lawsuit," states Dianna Wedincamp, Ogeechee
Riverkeeper. “Citizens throughout the basin are simply outraged that the state not only
failed to prevent this catastrophe, but is excluding those most impacted by the catastrophe
at every turn. King Finishing seems to be EPD’s priority, not the citizens who live, work
and play along the Ogeechee River.”
“The law is clear that any enforcement action must bring the facility into compliance with the law,
stated Hutton Brown, water quality attorney for GreenLaw handling the case for Ogeechee
Riverkeeper. “Instead of enforcing the law, EPD is using the consent order process to give the
facility a ‘free pass’ to continue violating the law. If they had allowed the public, and particularly
the affected local citizens, to participate in the process before the Order was issued, they might
have avoided these problems.”
Under state and federal law, citizens are allowed 30 days to file a legal action challenging a final agency action, in this case, EPD’s decision to issue a consent order against King Finishing. The lawsuit, filed today with the Department of Natural Resources, will be heard by the Office of State Administrative Hearings.
The Ogeechee Riverkeeper has been receiving complaints about the facility going back as far as 2002. In August 2011, Ogeechee Riverkeeper filed a notice of intent to file a citizen suit against King Finishing in federal court for violations at the facility. The Riverkeeper is currently preparing to pursue the citizen suit if the problems with the Consent Order and river restoration are not adequately addressed.
EPD has been under increasing scrutiny on whether it can adequately protect public health and the environment from industrial spills. Last year, EPD was criticized for its slow response to a spill from a porta-potty company that turned Trail Creek in Athens metallic blue. The public is also questioning whether EPD should have been able to prevent the spill in the Ogeechee River as staff had conducted inspections of the King Finishing facility but had failed to notice the problems that led to the spill. Just last week, a spill occurred on Brier Creek outside of Keysville which shut down water intakes downstream of the spill.