July 24-- The Ogeechee Riverkeeper, represented by GreenLaw and Stack and Associates, has filed a lawsuit in federal court against King America Finishing, Inc. for violations of the Clean Water Act. The lawsuit alleges that King America Finishing continues illegally to discharge pollution to the Ogeechee River.
“King America had over a year to address serious pollution violations following the state’s largest fish kill,” said Dianna Wedincamp, Ogeechee Riverkeeper, “but they didn’t. The government had years to stop the pollution, and they didn’t. We are asking the courts to do what the environmental law enforcers have failed to do, to stop the pollution of the Ogeechee River from King America Finishing.”
The lawsuit alleges that King America knowingly violated the clean water laws for over 6 years and that this illegal discharge caused the largest fish kill in Georgia history. Under the Clean Water Act, when the government does not adequately punish a polluter involved in an ongoing illegal discharge, private citizens and citizen groups can file a lawsuit seeking to have a court do what the State did not. Ogeechee Riverkeeper’s case seeks to have a court fine King America Finishing for its pollution of the river and to issue an order stopping the illegal discharge.
King America Finishing, owned by Chicago-based Westex, produces fabric for a number of purposes. Around 2006, the company added two flame retardant process lines to its wastewater discharge but failed to get a permit to discharge the pollution from these additional process lines into the Ogeechee River. In May of 2011, the largest fish kill in Georgia history occurred below King America Finishing affecting nearly 85 miles of the river and killing over 35,000 fish. There were no dead fish found upstream of the King America facility, and attention quickly turned to the company’s discharge site as the culprit. EPD belatedly concluded that the company’s discharge was harmful to aquatic life and the director of EPD pinpointed King America as the source of the fish kill. Testing revealed that excessive levels of ammonia, one of the unpermitted pollutants King America was discharging, was the primary contaminant.
In what was termed a “backroom deal” by watchdog groups, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division entered into an agreement with King America following the fish kill. The agreement purported to allow the King Finishing to continue to discharge unpermitted pollutants from the flame retardant lines. The company also agreed to pay $1 million for an undefined “environmental project” instead of paying $91 million in potential fines.
“The government has repeatedly failed to stop the pollution from King America,” said Hutton Brown, attorney at GreenLaw. “By filing this Clean Water Act case, we seek to correct the damage that has been done to the river and right the government’s failure to protect us from pollution.”
In May of this year, a smaller fish kill occurred downstream of the pollution discharge. Many of the public landings were closed to fishing and swimming for Memorial Day weekend. Another round of river warnings were issued by Emergency Management Agencies by counties down river from King America Finishing after discolored water and dead fish were reported over the Fourth of July holiday weekend.
“The unchecked pollution leaving King America is a poster-child for poor law enforcement,” said Don Stack, Stack and Associates. “When the government fails to do its job, the law allows concerned citizens to hold polluters accountable. Today, Ogeechee Riverkeeper is stepping into the shoes of government, because the regulators have failed to do their job.”
The filing and background information are available at HERE.