Georgia Hunting and Fishing Federation (GHFF) President Reggie Dickie expressed what he called “cautious optimism” for the future of the Ogeechee River and King Amercia Textiles (KAF) in the wake of a court order rejecting the plans of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) to address the chronic violations by the Screven County plant.
The problems at the plant came to light in May of last year when a 70-mile stretch of the Ogeechee River in southeast Georgia suffered what is now recognized as the worst fish-kill on record in Georgia.
Upstream of the out-fall pipe at KAF, where discharge of the plant’s waste entered the river, fish were healthy. Downstream of the pipe, the massive die-off was significant and persisted for days.
Plans to address the pollution at the plant have been poorly explained to the public by EPD; so poorly that environmental groups sued to force EPD to adhere to its own guidelines.
The court ruled against EPD.
The agency and KAF now have 90 days to develop a plan that will meet the protection standards called for and supposedly enforced by EPD.
Reggie said, “EPD has done a very poor job of informing the public of their work and the steps they have taken to protect the river. People here don’t trust EPD at this point. The public has lost all confidence in the agency. I hope this ruling will put things back on tract to solve the pollution issues at the plant.
“I want them to keep KAF open. I also want the river to be clean. I think both of those things can be done.”
The judge ruled with the Ogeechee RiverKeeper that the draft permit issued by EPD to KAF failed to protect the river. The judge found that EPD’s draft permit allowed excessive pollutants into the river.
The ruling means the company is required to conduct an “anti-degradation” study to determine how much pollution can be tolerated safely by the river. Additionally, KAF is required to hire a company to monitor the pollution coming from the plant. Previously, the plant had been allowed to conduct its own tests for pollution and to report the results to EPD in the event there was a problem.
Significant review of the history of self-reporting and the plant showed gaps in the process were chronic, frequent and occurred over long periods of time.
Interestingly, while the draft permit has been withdrawn by the state, the plant continues to operate.
Last fall, a financial obligation of $1 million was set as a penalty for the damage to the river, but no decision has been made as to how that money is to be spent. KAF still holds the money.
Some fear that KAF will simply use the money to buy equipment or conduct studies it should have done years ago. If KAF is simply permitted to spend the $1 million to improve its plant, then there will be no mitigation from the company for the damage it has done to the river and the broader community.
Opponents believe the money is a penalty for the damage done to the river and should be used to develop programs and projects that protect the river. They are opposed to allowing the company to use those funds to simply do what it should have legally done long before now.
Over the next three months, KAF is expected to conduct the anti-degradation study, and a new draft permit will be submitted for review and comment. Meanwhile, KAF continues to operate.