A court hearing regarding a local textile plant’s continued discharge of chemical-laden effluent into the Ogeechee River was postponed after a court-ordered change of venue.
The hearing, which had been slated to be held in Screven County, has not yet been rescheduled, interim Ogeechee Riverkeeper Emily Markesteyn said.
The Ogeechee Riverkeeper organization filed a complaint last year because the Georgia Environmental Protection Division allowed King America Finishing to continue discharging wastewater without a permit.
In May 2011, an extensive fish kill that left about 38,000 fish dead along the banks of the river downstream of the textiles plant prompted an investigation. EPD officials discovered King America had been dumping chemical-laden water from its fire-retardant line into the black water river without a permit for five years.
The Ogeechee Riverkeeper, along with some riverfront property owners and others, blamed King America for the fish kill. The cause of death of the fish was ruled to be columnaris, a bacterial disease caused by environmental stress, but former Ogeechee Riverkeeper Dianna Wedincamp and others claim the environmental stress was caused by water pollution from the plant, which includes formaldehyde and ammonia in the wastewater that is discharged.
King America officials have repeatedly said the company’s actions do not harm fish or the river.
The flame retardant line was temporarily shut down but reopened shortly afterward with new mandates by the EPD, even though a new permit had yet to be issued. A draft permit was proposed in August, but in light of protests and related court cases, the EPD revoked the draft permit, pending a water quality analysis in compliance with the Clean Water Act.
The hearing was originally slated for Jan. 2 in Screven County, with Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge John R. Turner hearing the case. The venue change has caused a further delay with the hearing, following a month-long effort to serve defendant Judson Turner, the EPD director, with a summons and copy of the complaint, Markesteyn said.
“Nobody could find him. He was never in the office when they tried (to serve him) and nobody would accept it for him,” she said. Efforts to serve Turner took a month, with four failed attempts and a court order before it was done, she said.
The EPD’s attorneys contacted the Ogeechee Riverkeeper organization Dec. 21 to announce they intended to seek a venue change because Turner lives in Spalding County, Markesteyn said.
The order consenting to the venue change was filed last Monday in the Screven County Superior Court.
Markesteyn said the organization hopes to have as many supporters as possible, citing concern that the case will be heard in an area that is “unfortunately, nowhere near our river or river basin.” However, she believes the case will stand on its own.