Ogeechee River pollution permit withdrawal resets the process and encourages environmentalists

October 16, 2012 20:43 pm

by Bill Dawers · 29 comments

I hope everyone realizes that the word “environmentalists” in the title of this post refers to a broad range of folks down here in southeast Georgia, from groups like Ogeechee Riverkeeper to small property owners along the river.

From the Savannah Morning News’ State pulls Ogeechee River pollution permit, proposes new consent order:

State regulators today withdrew the wastewater discharge permit issued in August to King America Finishing and ordered the company to perform an antidegradation analysis. The Georgia Environmental Protection Division is also proposing a new consent order for the company.

EPD is allowing the company to continue operating under the discharge requirements already in place.

A legal appeal of the permit by the Ogeechee Riverkeeper pushed for the antidegradation analysis, which allows water quality to decline only when it’s unavoidable to allow important economic or social development. EPD disagreed with the need for the analysis, but withdrew the permit to avoid further delays in issuing a final permit, according to a written statement.

[UPDATE: Click here for Mary Landers' longer Savannah Morning News article today.]

This is a complex issue, and I’ll try to follow up tomorrow with a more detailed link.

After a massive fish kill in the Ogeechee River in May 2011, the textile company King America Finishing in Screven County was found to have been putting a certain pollutant into the river for years without a permit. And many concerned parties concluded that the company was directly responsible for the fish kill, although that was never firmly established by the EPD. Just this past week, a mysterious white residue along the Ogeechee has prompted another EPD investigation.

Given the persistent concerns about KAF’s discharges, many were outraged earlier this year when the company was issued a permit that allowed continue discharging pollution directly into the river.

The withdrawal of the permit resets the process and will likely ramp up pressure on King America Finishing to find ways to reduce the amount of pollution it creates.

Environmental advocates seem to believe that there is little chance that KAF can meet the standards required by the antidegradation analysis. Those advocates are frustrated that they had to go through a lengthy and expensive legal battle to — in their view — force the state to follow its own procedures, but they seem cautiously optimistic after this move by the state today.

There are other legal battles ongoing, including a suit in federal court and lawsuits brought by a number of property owners who are seeing their land values and quality of life decimated.

xdog October 17, 2012 at 7:17 am

Hi Bill. I’ve never understood why “environmentalist” is such a dirty word to the right. You even disassociate yourself from the word in your first sentence. Unless you think capitalism should be free to do what it wants whenever it wants, what is more soundly conservative than taking proper care of land and streams and air?

The latest EPD ruling doesn’t appear to stop the disputed discharge at all. The company will let a third party watch their gauges, they’ll give Millen wastewater plant some money, they’ll fund a nature center. It’s not clear to me if the new order allows or requires KAF to take up these tasks.

I look forward to your followup.

Bill Dawers October 17, 2012 at 8:40 am

Thanks xdog. I’m not disassociating myself from the word as much as making sure what “environmentalist” means here. I agree completely with your rhetorical question.

I had the exact concerns about this development that you have in your second paragraph. I wondered if the move could have far less impact than it might seem at first. But the background on the issue that I got last night indicates that advocates for the river have been re-energized. As I understand, KAF would be required to take the steps that you list. Plus, environmental groups might have more leverage down the road.

saltycracker October 17, 2012 at 8:40 am

Glad some pressure might be put to the finishing company. There is much support on the right for environmental issues. The issues arrive when no human activity is permitted. There are too many examples of pushing for extreme restrictions.

saltycracker October 17, 2012 at 8:43 am

P.S. cutting funding for our state parks and wildlife is well in the harmful range now.

Spacey G October 17, 2012 at 9:26 am

Close your sunroof; pigs is a’flyin’: World ‘O Peach Pundit seems to, albeit hestitantly, tentatively at best, acknowledge that dumping chemicals and assorted other non-organic crappola into a Georgia river is, like, kinda maybe sorta, a bad thing. WARNING! Such radical notions can be gateway thoughts on to the hardcore, really scary stuff of wanting to protect Georgia’s water supply, land, and assorted other commie-pinko ideals and icons.

Bloodhound October 17, 2012 at 11:52 am

Spacey, the words “conservative” and “conservation”, you may have noticed, have the same root. Many conservatives do care deeply about our natural resources and are active in preserving them and urging others to be active in that cause.

However, we are not going to go so far as to go along with such wacked out concepts as not building a road because a couple “ghost spiders” will get waxed or shutdown a $65million construction project because someone may or may not have seen a fruit fly.

Gov. Deal and EPD had made a deal with KF that would allow them to pout toxic waste into the Ogeechee at a flow rate equal to as much as 25% of the flow of the river. That river, a treasure of and by itself, feeds one of the richest salt marshes on the planet. That salt marsh feeds our economy as well as the souls of those of us who truly love Georgia.

You don’t have to be a bugnutty, wacked-out, bunny hugger to join the Ogeechee Riverkeeper in this effort!

Calypso October 17, 2012 at 11:59 am

Yeah, but it’s so much easier for her to react all bent out of shape like she does. It’s her Trademark™.

Bloodhound October 17, 2012 at 1:45 pm

Yea, I know. I was just using her as a stage prop.

AMB October 17, 2012 at 11:56 am

Your river? Tuff.
My river? OMG stop it stop it stop it.

Katherine Helms Cummings October 17, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Without the hard and determined work by the Ogeechee Riverkeeper, local landowners, and those who value the river for its beauty and its bounty of wildlife, who knows how much worse the health of the river would be? The fish kills (there have been three since May 2011) are proof positive that citizens can’t depend on the EPD to protect our air and water because it thinks it is in the economic development and permit issuing business.

Is it foolish to ever hope that the EPD will focus on reducing the already toxic levels of mercury in the Ogeechee and its neighbor river, the Savannah?

Calypso October 17, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Katherine, being in the Atlanta area, I don’t hear much of what goes on down that way. What’s the issue with the mercury? Is it ongoing or is it from past problems that is awaiting cleanup? Are you refering to deepening the Savannah for the larger tankers?

Katherine Helms Cummings October 17, 2012 at 7:31 pm

The mercury in both rivers is an ongoing problem. The fish are so contaminated with mercury that the state advises women of childbearing age not to consume any of it. For other people, the consumption guidelines call for very very small servings, and, if read carefully, they call for eating no other fish during the advised period for consumption. No tuna salad, no nothing. There are consumption advisories for every river in Georgia.

The Ogeechee, because it is a Black Water river, is especially susceptible to mercury contamination and damage. The mercury just settles to the bottom and accumulates. Many people don’t even know about this risk (I didn’t until I started fighting Plant Washington, a proposed coal plant. Coal emissions are major emission sources for mercury and other heavy metals, which will settle in rivers and creeks).

The settling effect means that bottom dwelling fish, like catfish, usually have exceptionally high levels of mercury, and subsequently, lower advised consumption limits. You can learn more here: http://faceenvironment.org/ and here http://faceenvironment.org/naturalresources.html

Calypso October 18, 2012 at 6:12 am

Thanks.

Bloodhound October 18, 2012 at 8:37 am

Here are the links to the DNR advisories. The first is for coastal waters and the second is for Georgia’s rivers and streams.

Please look for yourselves. Georgia has a safe, tasty fish population with very few exceptions. The Ogeechee and Savannah rivers are not the chemical cesspools some would have you believe.

http://www.eregulations.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/12GAFW_FishConsumption_SW_Coastal1.pdf

http://www.eregulations.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/12GAFW_FishConsumption_FW_Rivers1.pdf

Katherine Helms Cummings October 18, 2012 at 10:39 am

In rural Georgia it is common to see people literally fishing for their dinner several times a week. Local fish are important to family food budgets here. They are consuming many times over the recommended consumption levels.

If we can’t go fishing and eat the fish we catch when the mood strikes us, because the fish are full of heavy metals and toxins, then we have big problems to clean up.

And FYI, you can’t see those dangerous pollutants in the fish, and you can’t see them, but that doesn’t make them safe.

We need to clean up our rivers. Period.

Robin Wheeler October 18, 2012 at 11:01 am

I beg your pardon. You most certainly CAN see the chemicals and pollutants in and on the fish. They look like aliens. Gross bloody boils and blisters all over their scales. Take a look at the pictures on the Riverkeepers website as well as the investigative reporting WTOC-11 has conducted on the Ogeechee as it pertains to KAF.

The problem, although not comparable to the Ogeechee fish kill, exists with the fish in the Altamaha in Jesup as well, near the factory/plants on that river.

The most important thing to realize is the Ogeechee’s ecology can not be compared to any other river, lake, stream, or waterway as its system is different from any other in Georgia. What you may say is true for one river in Georgia is not exactly the same for the Ogeechee. Please do your homework. Thanks.

Katherine Helms Cummings October 18, 2012 at 12:38 pm

This running commentary on the health of our rivers is especially pertinent today, the 40th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act.

Robin is absolutely right-the impact of the pollution is clearly visible on the fish, the wildlife that drink the contaminated water in the rivers, and in the resulting dead wildlife that consumes those fish. Your observation will be helpful in my work. Thank you.

This map http://faceenvironment.org/map.html indicates the impaired rivers and streams in Georgia, along with lakes. The ongoing damage to the waterways in our state impacts all of us. State leaders who refuse to act responsibly to clean up the damage and protect future insults to them are shirking their duties.

Robin is also right to point out that the Black Water eco-system of the Ogeechee, is unique. That makes it difficult, if not impossible, to compare to other rivers which are not Black Water systems. The Ogeechee Riverkeeper’s site has lots of helpful information http://www.ogeecheeriverkeeper.org/

Calypso October 18, 2012 at 1:31 pm

Bloodhound, thanks for the informative graph.

AMB October 17, 2012 at 3:09 pm

From Charles Seabrook’s book, The World of the Salt Marsh:

” The most notorious of the Superfund sites is the old LCP Chemicals plant, which dumped staggering amounts of mercury into the marshes of Glynn between 1980 and the early 1990s.”
This is near Brunswick-site of 16 hazardous waste sites, four of which are Superfund sites. Other sites are dumps of toxophene and creosote.

When industry is not regulated, it will dump its toxic trash as cheaply as possible on the first community that has neither the resources or the knowledge to fight the pollution.

Calypso October 17, 2012 at 3:13 pm

“When industry is not regulated…”

No regulations or inadequate regulations or unenforced regulations?

AMB October 17, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Not sure the distinction matters. Industry would prefer no regulation but if their lobbyists can purchase work arounds and loop holes and stifle enforcement, the end results are the same.

Charlie October 17, 2012 at 3:52 pm

In another thread you mock conservatives and their rejection of science, but here you say there’s no distinction between being against a regulation and being against regulations.

Amazing how cognative dissonance looks from both the far right and the far left, and yet none of you fine folks who live on the edges of political netherworld can’t ever see it in your own mirrors.

Bloodhound October 17, 2012 at 4:00 pm

There is also the small matter of the sites cited in the quote from Mr. Seabrook’s book are on the Altamaha River Basin as opposed to the Ogeechee. Of course the liberal playbook indicates that the most severe crisis available should be cited regardless of applicability to the subject at hand.

AMB October 17, 2012 at 5:33 pm

The tide washes in, the tide washes out. Where do you think the pollutants flow? It’s a salt marsh system interconnected to the rivers and the ocean.
So ignorant yahoo-you go eat a shrimp caught off the coast of Brunswick or catch a fish in a toxophene filled creek. Talk about liberals. Slice rhetorical hairs so thin.
But the mercury is there. The toxophene is there. The creosote is there.
Your coast is polluted. Your Georgia is used as a waste dump. I would hope you could see past liberal, right, left wing, right wing and be a Georgian first.

Bloodhound October 18, 2012 at 7:49 am

I know that being a “spelling Nazi” is poor form, however, when calling someone an “ignorant yahoo”, one should certainly exercise care.

It is true that there are some lingering resides from the production of toxaphene and creosote in the Brunswick area and Georgia Power, nor anyone else, has determined a method by which to burn coal without producing some level of mercury, but you would be well served to do a little more study on the current effects on the quality of Georgia’s seafood. Anyone that is missing out on enjoying wild Georgia shrimp or a plate of baked, broiled or fried Georgia Redfish, Seatrout or Flounder are really doing themselves quite a dis-service.

Georgians have made mistakes in handling our resources in the past and there certainly does continue to be the need for us to be vigilant. That does not mean that we need to twist and jump and run about acting as if our food chain consists of mercury laden, 3 eyed, glow in the dark crustaceans.

Scott65 October 17, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Does the Governor appoint members to the State EPD…might as well…he appoints everyone else

Robin Wheeler October 18, 2012 at 11:07 am

I remember that Superfund clean up site. The designation being at least one good outcome of the Bill Clinton years. I also remember the government involvement and the U.S. Attorney sueing LCP Chemical on behalf of the United States for criminal harm and wrong-doing. Wonder when Nathan Deal will, if ever, call in the feds to the KAF site? Hopefully this is a step in the right direction.

Engineer October 18, 2012 at 1:35 pm

Yeah, up until the government came in, the Turtle River (the river the superfund site is on, near Brunswick) was a very popular place to go fishing. Eventually the DNR has started letting folks fish there again, but most folks steer clear of it now. It’s just not worth the risks or the extra hassle.

Robin Wheeler October 18, 2012 at 2:19 pm

So imagine if you are a property owner on the Ogeechee right about now……

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