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Plant agrees to $1M for river cleanup
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A Screven County textiles plant accused of being the source the Ogeechee River’s massive fish kill in May has agreed to a Georgia Environmental Protection Division consent order.

The order, filed Wednesday, said King America Finishing violated its discharge permit into the river. As part of its agreement, King America Finishing will submit two plans to the EPD within 90 days. One will be a supplemental environmental project (SEP) plan that includes $1 million of water-related and environmentally-beneficial projects, according to the company. The other is a plan that analyzes the plant’s wastewater treatment system to determine whether any system improvements are necessary.

“We like the $1,000,000 figure,” Ogeechee Riverkeeper Executive Director Dianna Wedincamp said in a statement. “It’s a warning bell that every other polluter along the Ogeechee River should hear loud and clear. The pollution from King America Finishing is a serious threat to the health and safety of local families and river wildlife. We are grateful to EPD for acting on this situation.”

Wedincamp said the Riverkeeper will be reviewing the 22-page consent order carefully.

“We still have questions about how the $1 million will be used,” she said.

According to the EPD, King America Finishing began an unauthorized discharge from two flame-retardant finishing production lines in April 2006 and combined the unauthorized discharge with the permitted discharge. The EPD discovered the illicit discharge practice this May.

King America must submit a plan within 90 days, and has 18 months to complete the ordermandates. Plant officials must make monthly reports to the EPD regarding the SEPs as well as testing and monitoring.

As part of the agreement to allow King America Finishing to resume operations of the flame retardant line, the company has to conduct tests on the toxic levels of its effluent. The EPD also said environmental sampling of the river indicates that the river is meeting federal and state in-stream water quality standards for the designated uses, defined by the Georgia Rules Water Quality Control.

“We intend to fully and faithfully do everything we committed to do in the consent order,” said attorney Lee DeHihns of Atlanta law firm Alston and Bird, which is representing the company, “and to remain good citizens in the community.”

In a release, King America Finishing said it is not aware of any operations that would have adversely affected water quality or the fish in the Ogeechee River. The company further states the consent order quotes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s June 3 memorandum that concludes “it may be impossible to ever know for certain exactly what happened” to cause the Ogeechee River fish kill.

“We are doing everything we can to make sure the Ogeechee River is protected,” the company said in a release.

Though the EPD notes that dead fish were found 50 yards downstream of the plant’s discharge and no fish were dying of columnaris, the bacteria which led to the widespread fish kill, upstream of the discharge, it did not directly state the discharge was responsible for the columnaris.

The EPD also said the plant’s wastewater discharge has been analyzed and is being monitored. The current discharge is not a causing a violation of water quality standards, the EPD continued, and routine testing confirms that the discharge is not a stressor to fish in the Ogeechee River.

King America Finishing has had its permit since Dec. 12, 2001, when it was transferred from King Finishing Company.

Wedincamp also said she hopes the supplemental environmental project will address restoring the health of the river and not create beautification projects along the river.

“We will be watching this situation closely and we are ready to step in if the health of the river is not restored,” she said.