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Riverkeeper to appeal consent order

POSTED: January 9, 2012 5:15 p.m.

A court hearing regarding an appeal to a consent order against a Screven County textiles plant is slated for Jan. 23, said Ogeechee Riverkeeper Diana Wedincamp.

In October, the Environmental Protection Division ordered King America Finishing to spend $1 million to submit plans to fund supplemental environmental projects (SEPs) as a penalty for permit and environmental violations.

The EPD launched an investigation after a massive fish kill in May 2011, when around 38,000 fish died due to an outbreak of columnaris, caused by “environmental stress.”

Unhappy with the consent order, Wedincamp and others filed an appeal to the order. The appeal halted King America’s plans, which would have had to be announced within 90 days of the order.

“Any time an order is appealed, it is suspended until the matter can be resolved,” said EPD spokesman Kevin Chambers. “Because of the appeal of the King America consent order, there is no plan of action at this time.”

Wedincamp said Ogeechee Riverkeeper attorneys were instructed by the judge “to try and work this out with the attorneys of King America.”

In anticipation of the Jan. 26 court date, the Riverkeeper organization has “been in meetings drafting plans for projects to help rehabilitate the Ogeechee,” she said. “The projects are part of the citizens’ requests during meetings with legislators and Senator Jack Hill.”

The appeal came after citizens and members of the Ogeechee Riverkeeper Organization protested the $1 million order, saying it is not enough of a punishment for the damage to the river.

During the fish kill, tests showed an increased level of formaldehyde, ammonia and other dangerous chemicals. Public safety officials in counties along the river south of the plant in Dover, near the Bulloch County line, ordered the river closed to the public.

Several citizens complained of health issues, and some banded together in a class action suit against King America.

“We are not satisfied with the amount,” Wedincamp said. “This is not enough to do extensive monitoring of the Ogeechee. We feel the monitoring should last 10 years.”

She and other citizens who met last year at Dasher’s Landing near Blitchton expressed concern that the textiles plant would not use their monies to rectify damages.

“EPD didn’t specify anything about what the projects (ordered in the SEPs) should be, so they could build a boat ramp,” she said. “A boat ramp is what they have proposed to Screven County already.”

The EPD’s investigation revealed King America Finishing violated discharge permits by releasing chemicals in unacceptable levels of concentration; by not conducting testing and reporting as required; and by not having adequate wastewater treatment procedures.

Chambers said in previous statements that King America added a fire retardant to their line, which violated the plant’s permits.

Investigations also showed that monitoring was done improperly as well. Acid was improperly stored and an alarm system that would alert changes in pH was not in place, he said.

According to the EPD report, King America Finishing had violations dating back to 2003, including pH violations and improper maintenance of the wastewater treatment facility.

The EPD report documented details of the fish kill and the subsequent investigation, including state officials being unable to reach King America emergency contacts the weekend of the fish kill. During the fish kill, Wedincamp, DNR officials and others noted there were no dead fish found north of the plant’s discharge pipe.

“This was a criminal activity,” Wedincamp said, adding that the consent order was in no way sufficient as a punitive action against the plant.

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