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Lawmakers letter to EPD urges plant fund river testing
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State legislators have sent a letter to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division asking for independent, third-party testing of the Ogeechee River.

The letter, drafted last week, was signed by state Sens. Jack Hill, Buddy Carter and Jesse Stone and state Reps. Jon Burns, Ann Purcell, Jan Tankersley and Ron Stephens. Each lawmaker’s district either borders or includes part of the Ogeechee River.

In the letter to Jud Turner, director of the state EPD, the lawmakers have proposed that King America Finishing fund third party testing of the river affected by last May’s fish kill. More than 38,000 fish were found dead in the river, and all of them were downstream from the textile plant’s discharge pipe. In September, the EPD issued a consent order on King America Finishing and fined the company $1 million, with the fine going toward what are known as supplemental environmental projects.

The legislators are urging the EPD to have the independent testing of the damaged section of river done “for a period of time to insure and restore public confidence in the testing process.” They also are proposing that required test results of any industry, municipality or entity discharging into the river be published online.

Lawmakers also will seek having the Ogeechee designated as a “Wild and Scenic River” to insure its recreational purposes. They also are asking the EPD to improve response times to future spills and emergencies and report on measures taken. The first alerts about the possible hazards in the river did not go out until days after the initial sightings of dead fish in the river.

Several lawsuits have been filed against King America Finishing, including one filed in U.S. Northern District federal court and one filed by the Ogeechee Riverkeeper. Enforcement of the $1 million fine is held up until the legal proceedings are resolved, the lawmakers said, but they also asked the state to contract with Georgia Southern University for a wide-ranging study of the Ogeechee River’s condition, including testing for all contaminants caused by discharges and runoffs. They also backed continued testing of fish and other seafood from the river and asked for those results to be made available online.

The Ogeechee Riverkeeper has appealed the EPD’s consent order, saying it did not go far enough against the company. That appeal will be heard Jan. 23.