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EPD chief: textiles plant permit most stringent
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The permit for a Screven County textiles plant that was the source of a massive fish kill is the most stringent in the state, Environmental Protection Division director Jud Turner said.

Turner, in addressing the Effingham Day at the Capitol contingent recently, said the wastewater discharge permit for the former King America Finishing plant near Dover was designed to be the tightest in the state.

“As we said when we promulgated that permit, it’s the tightest in the state, it’s the strongest in the state, it’s the hardest to comply with in the state,” he said.

Turner said the plant’s new owners, Milliken, have been “great to work with.” In May 2011, more than 38,000 fish were found dead downstream from the plant’s discharge pipe into the Ogeechee River. The plant received a new discharge permit in November 2013.

“We’re serious about our mission for environmental protection,” Turner said. “We have to be adaptive managers. There are going to be issues and we have to work through them in ways that are protective of the environment and allows us all to put food on the table and give us a place we are proud of to live and grow.”

The state is working with South Carolina on new total maximum density loads for the Savannah River, Turner said, with the last piece of the puzzle being how future allocations for river discharges would be allocated.

“EPA set the limit, and we put the dischargers in a room together,” he said, adding all the parties agreed to shrink their discharges. Most of the dischargers into the river are on the Georgia side, Turner pointed out.

He said more than 4,000 pounds of oxygen will be injected into the Savannah River to deal with the loss of the gas through the deepening of the Savannah harbor. The state also is working on saltwater intrusion into groundwater, and the model used to decrease the TMDL levels may be applied in this instance, Turner said.

“We put the withdrawers in a room,” he said. “We’re going to keep weaning ourselves off groundwater. But we’re going to do it in a very sensible way with targets we can meet and that won’t break the bank.”

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle called Senate Bill 2, which would give students who complete postsecondary coursework a high school diploma, “a game changer.” Effingham College and Career Academy CEO Barbara Prosser testified before the Senate Education and Youth Committee about SB 2.

The bill, if passed, will allow for a streamlined approach for students entering their junior or senior year to create a dual pathway to graduate from high school and graduate from college in their senior year, according to Cagle.

“It allows not only individuals who are seeking an associate’s degree that would be transferable to the university system,” he said, “but also allow individuals who want to pursue a technical path. All of those options are available.”

“I think it is critical we give our students the pathways they need to be successful and ultimately allow that to link up to a job,” Cagle continued. “SB 2 is going to streamline that process and capstone all the other things we are doing.”

SB 2 has passed the Senate and has been referred to the state House of Representatives. Cagle said the state needs to focus on transportation and education, “making sure we are creating a workforce that is second to none.

“I believe that education drives the economy,” he said, “and if we create the kind of workers industries need, then we’re not going to have about worry about companies that want to expand and want to locate here.”

Transportation funding, and more exactly, how to find the revenues to build new roads and maintain the state’s existing inventory of roads and bridges, is one of the hottest topics under the Gold Dome this session.

“There is a tremendous pent-up demand for a revenue stream that meets the needs of the growth that we are experiencing,” Cagle said. “It’s not about maintain our infrastructure but growing our infrastructure, adding the kind of capacity we need to continue our dominance as the place to do business in in the entire country.”

Georgia’s No. 1 business remains agriculture, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black said. And the department’s Georgia Grown program has taken off in popularity.

“It’s gone crazy,” he said. “We believe there is a great future in branding our program, and that’s where a lot of the growth in agriculture can come in taking advantage of that local brand.”

Any business related to food, forestry or agriculture can participate in Georgia Grown, Black said. The licenses paid for the Georgia Grown logo go back into the program.

“We knew three years ago we wanted to change the face of Georgia’s brand,” he said. “We knew Georgia Grown needed to move far beyond where it had been. The excitement of branding food that is produced locally and products and services related to agriculture, so Georgians can do business with Georgians. We felt there was a lot of room to grow there.”

State Rep. Jon Burns, who is an agribusinessman, praised Black’s efforts to promote Georgia’s products.

“The energy Gary has brought to the department is really amazing,” Burns said. “They spread the word about Georgia Grown.”

Secretary of State Brian Kemp said his office is working on what is becoming known as the “SEC primary,” a move to get more Southeastern states to hold their presidential preference primaries on the same date.

Doing so, Kemp believes, will bring the presidential candidates to Georgia and the Southeast, giving them a chance to meet Georgia voters and Georgia voters an opportunity to see them in person.

“Either the race was over with before it got to Georgia, or we were going the same day as big states like New York and California and we were overshadowed,” Kemp said. “They never traveled our state and talked to our citizens. They only came to Atlanta to fund-raise.”

A regional primary had bipartisan support in the past, Kemp added, but the national parties dictate the rules and the processes.

“We just could never get that done,” he said. “I want the Southeastern states to go on the first possible date without getting penalized and losing delegates. If we had three, four, five states, it would incentivize the candidates to come.”

Kemp said he has received support from other states. Tennessee is committed, and he has received letters from the secretaries of state for Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi. He also said political party leaders are excited about the idea.

“It’s going to be a great opportunity for us to be a part of the process,” he said. “They’re going to start visiting states. Instead of going to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, they’re going to come to Georgia and Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee. It also allows our people to have political influence. There are people who will get on board.”

Kemp said former state lawmaker David Adelman and his wife were among the first supporters in Georgia of a then-little known junior senator from Illinois. In 2010, President Barack Obama rewarded Adelman’s early backing with an appointment as the ambassador to Singapore.

The 2016 primaries are now just a year away.

“You never know how this will play out,” Kemp said. “There is a long way to go.”