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King America settles with county over fish kill
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Effingham County now has in its hands a $30,000 check, the result of its settlement with King America Finishing.

Oliver Maner, the Savannah law firm contracted to finalize the settlement with the Screven County textiles plant believed to be the cause of a May 2011 widespread fish kill on the Ogeechee River, disbursed the check Nov. 20.

The county claimed it suffered damage from the plant’s regulated discharge and asserted several claims against the plant under the Georgia Water Quality Control Act.

Commissioners agreed in October to retain the firm of Oliver Maner to engage King America Finishing about a possible settlement. Though much of the land along the Ogeechee affected by the fish kill — traced to a bacteria called columnaris that wiped out 38,000 fish in the river — is privately owned, the county owns Steel Bridge Landing off Highway 119, just across the water from Bulloch County.

The effects of the fish kill were seen just downstream from the plant’s discharge pipe into the Ogeechee. No fish that died as a result of columnaris were discovered upstream of the pipe. The fish kill affected 70 miles of river.

According to the settlement, signed by county commission Chairman Wendall Kessler, King America Finishing’s Michael Beasley and George Renaldi Jr., the sides agreed that the settlement was not an admission of guilt or liability. The settlement agreement was dated Oct. 22, 2013.

“In the interest of avoiding the time, expense and effort devoted to outcome-uncertain litigation, all parties have agreed that the best way to resolve this dispute is through an out-of-court settlement,” attorneys at Oliver Maner said.

Paul Threlkeld, attorney at Oliver Maner, said the county and the company would not have further comment on the settlement.

More than 60 civil lawsuits were filed against the company in the wake of the fish kill. Many of those have been resolved, but those individual settlements have been not disclosed.

King America Finishing was granted a new discharge permit in November, and the company agreed to make a $2.5 million contribution to the Ogeechee Riverkeeper, a watchdog organization that has been critical of the permit process and the company’s discharge. The company also will install $500,000 worth of new equipment for its wastewater treatment and a $2.5 million filtration system.

King America also will pay for independent testing and analysis of its discharge and it also will pay $1.3 million in supplemental environmental projects along the river.

The EPD discovered the company was operating a fire-retardant process line that previously was unknown to the regulatory agency.

The county and King America Finishing also agreed the settlement would fall under open records requests. The total settlement was for $49,000, with Oliver Maner receiving a 33 percent attorney’s fee.

Westex, King America Finishing’s parent company, sent the check to Oliver Maner on Nov. 8, 2013.