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EPD to hold public hearing on KAF permit
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The state Environmental Protection Division will hold a public hearing on a draft wastewater permit for King America Finishing.

The public hearing will be held at May 7 Effingham County High School at 7 p.m. The draft permit replaces a permit originally issued August 2012. The permit will allow treated wastewater to be discharged from King America Finishing, a textiles plant that applies flame-retardant material to apparel, into the Ogeechee River.

Residents, property owners, river enthusiasts and environmental watchdogs have pointed to the plant as the culprit for a catastrophic May 2011 fish kill, with more than 38,000 fish falling victim. The EPD determined columnaris, a bacteria, led to the fish kill, but many along the river believe the plant’s discharge resulted in the columnaris.

After legal challenges, the EPD withdrew the permit and required the company to perform an analysis that also must show lowering the water quality is necessary to meet certain socio-economic benefits.

The EPD issued a discharge permit to King America Finishing on Aug. 10, 2012. Less than a month later, an administrative appeal charging an antidegradation analysis should have been done was filed. EPD Director Jud Turner withdraw the permit, and the company was tasked with completing the requested analysis, though the EPD did not agree that an antidegradation analysis was necessary to re-issue the permit.

The EPD released a white paper March 12 on the plant and the fish kill, outlining what it has done and what the plant has been mandated to do in the wake of the fish kill.

The EPD held a public hearing last month on a proposed consent order for the plant. The consent order stipulates the plant spend $1 million in supplemental environmental projects. The fine, because plant operated for five years a process line that was not permitted, could have been as much as $90 million.

The fine is the third-largest environmental fine imposed in the state. The EPD said it surveyed large fish kills across the U.S. and other environmental fines levied in the state and the $1 million assessed to KAF is consistent with other water quality fines.

Because of the dissolved solids in the plant’s discharge, land application of all of King America’s wastewater would mean more than 34,000 acres and cost $323 million, according to the EPD’s white paper. Operation of that land application system would cost $97 million a year. Land application for the wastewater from the flame retardant lines, without removal of the solids, would take 6,336 acres and cost $60 million, plus an additional $18 million each year to operate.

The river is safe, according to the EPD, which said monitoring has been ongoing since July 2011. The EPD said there are no toxins in the river, based on test results from the plant’s wastewater discharge and sampling of the river. The EPD said there have been more than 500 tests on potential toxins in the river, and no toxicity has been indicated. The EPD also said King America has made improvements to its manufacturing and wastewater treatment processes.

The proposed changes to the permit include, according to the EPD, new limits for dissolved oxygen, toxicity on the effluent and formaldehyde that must be met immediately. The company must have a wastewater treatment system operator with a Class II license immediately, rather than at a later date.

Also as part of the draft permit, an option to reduce the monitoring for acute toxicity was removed. It also removed the need to study if a land application system, such as a sprayfield, could be put in place to dispose of the plant’s wastewater. According to the EPD, the company’s required antidegradation analysis showed a land application system was not feasible.

EPD officials will make a brief presentation at the beginning of the public hearing, but they are not required to answer questions from the audience. The hearing officer, however, may ask them to clarify a technical point or explain statements in more detail.

EPD public hearing
When: May 7, 7 p.m.
Where: Effingham County High School
What: The Environmental Protection Division will hold a public hearing on a draft permit for King America Finishing’s discharge of treated wastewater into the Ogeechee River