March 21-- The Ogeechee Riverkeeper issued a news release today objecting to a judge's ruling against the group in last year's Ogeechee fish kill.
"On March 20, 2012, a judge in Atlanta ruled that citizens have no right to challenge the State's handling of the largest fish kill in Georgia's history. Ogeechee Riverkeeper, represented by the public interest law firm, GreenLaw, and the environmental law firm, Stack & Associates, had filed a legal challenge to the state environmental agency's handling of the largest fish kill in state history. While Judge Lois Oakley, who issued the decision, found that Ogeechee Riverkeeper members were injured by the fish kill, she nevertheless rejected their case finding that Ogeechee Riverkeeper could not show that its members had been harmed by the agency's decision.
In May 2011, the biggest fish kill in the history of the State was caused by an illegal discharge into the Ogeechee River by a textile company based in Chicago, King America Finishing. Shortly thereafter, King America Finishing ("KAF") and the State Environmental Protection Division ("EPD") entered into secret negotiations where KAF agreed to a Consent Order, which allowed them to continue discharging illegally and without a proper permit. The Consent Order also imposed the requirement of an environmental project. Citizens, including Ogeechee Riverkeeper and its members, had no input into this process.
In challenging the Consent Order, Riverkeeper brought numerous witnesses to testify about how they have been directly affected by the illegal discharge and how they fear it may happen again. A prominent biologist at Auburn University, Dr. Alan Wilson, testified that these fears are well founded and that the fish kill could happen again. Nevertheless, the Judge ruled that the members of the public most affected by the fish kill and overall health of the river have no standing to challenge the State's inadequate penalty.
"Georgia's citizens who live in the Ogeechee Basin have borne too many insults," states Dianna Wedincamp, Ogeechee Riverkeeper. "First, we had to endure a massive fish kill, then EPD shuts us out of the process, and then a judge says we have no right to complain. We have a right to protect our rivers."
"We believe that the court erred because we showed that the Ogeechee Riverkeeper and its members were not only shut out of the process but also that they had been injured by the Consent Order which allows the facility to keep polluting illegally," stated Hutton Brown, water quality attorney for GreenLaw who is handling the case for Ogeechee Riverkeeper in partnership with Don Stack of Stack & Associates. "We intend to appeal the decision."
To see the Judge's ruling, go to www.greenlaw.org/OgeecheeFishKill