The Georgia Environmental Protection Division pulled a textiles plant’s wastewater discharge permit Tuesday and issued a new consent order after legal pressure from supporters of the Ogeechee River.
King America Finishing, which was found in violation of discharge permits following the deaths of 38,000 fish in May 2011, may continue to operate but must perform an antidegradation analysis.
“EPD will allow the company to continue operating under stringent requirements already in place,” EPD Director Judson H. Turner said.
The discharge permit was issued in August, but since then Ogeechee Riverkeeper Dianna Wedincamp and the Ogeechee Riverkeeper organization have battled against the order, citing continued problems with extreme chemical levels in water samples taken down river from the plant, located near Dover in Screven County.
“A legal appeal of the permit claimed such an analysis was necessary and while EPD disagreed with that argument, the permit was withdrawn to minimize further delays in issuing a final permit,” Turner said. “The EPD believes an antidegradation analysis is only needed for new or expanded permits and does not apply to reissued permits.”
An antidegradation analysis ensures water quality standards are met while allowing important economic or social development, he said.
“This is a victory for the citizens, Ogeechee Riverkeeper and the river itself,” Wedincamp said.
The permit originally was reissued in August, eliciting renewed opposition from the Riverkeeper and Ogeechee River residents. The Riverkeeper filed an appeal with the Office of State Administrative Hearings, arguing the permit continued to allow King America Finishing to pollute the river.
“We believed the draft permit would allow excessive amounts of ammonia and other toxic chemicals to be released into the Ogeechee River,” Wedincamp said of the appeal, filed in September.
Learning the EPD pulled King America Finishing’s discharge permit was “a big surprise,” but “a great victory,” she said.
Another win for permit opponents was that EPD proposes a new consent order with King America Finishing, following the Ogeechee Riverkeeper’s appeal of a previous one because of lack of public input.
The new proposal offers more stringent guidelines, and the move was made with intentions to “allow the company to proceed with environmental improvement projects to benefit the Ogeechee River in east Georgia,” Turner said. “The supplemental environmental projects were requirements established in an earlier order, which was challenged in court.”
Like the initial consent order, the new order requires King America Finishing to complete supplemental projects at a cost of approximately $1 million. It would require third-party monitoring of discharges for 18 months, costing $75,000.
Also, the company must fund improvements to the city of Millen’s wastewater treatment plant, to be completed in 12 months at a cost of $158,609. The facility discharges to the Ogeechee River.
The proposed consent order also demands $766,391 in funding for establishing a nature center study through Georgia Southern University, to be completed in 36 months.
If King America Finishing does not complete the approved projects within the specified time frame, the company must pay the state the penalty in cash, Turner said.
The first consent order was issued after an EPD investigation of the major fish kill in 2011 that revealed the company was operating an unpermitted discharge from a manufacturing line.
The proposed new order will be placed on public notice through Nov. 14 and can be viewed and downloaded at www.georgiaepd.com, then clicking on the “What’s New at EPD” button.
Turner said the EPD invites comments on the proposed order and will consider all comments before making a final decision.
Wedincamp is urging residents to offer input on the proposed consent order. She was unable to comment further Tuesday about the proposal, as she and Ogeechee Riverkeeper board members had not yet discussed the issue.
“This is giving the public a chance to voice opinions,” she said. “We need to make sure citizens get all the information so they can respond. We will be working to make sure all the information is easily accessible.”