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Residents enlist Ogeechee Riverkeeper's help during ash road repairs
Dr. Simona Perry, Ogeechee Riverkeeper executive director, makes a point during a July 16 meeting with Effingham County residents at Tusculum Christian Church. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

GUYTON — About two dozen Effingham County residents have enlisted an experienced set of eyes to help them monitor the repair of fly ash roads near their homes.

Ogeechee Riverkeeper Executive Director Dr. Simona Perry conferred with the residents during a July 16 meeting at Tusculum Christian Church near Guyton. Her organization's mission is, "To protect, preserve and improve the water quality of the Ogeechee River watershed by building bridges between people and their local waterways."

During the church meeting, concerns were raised about the safety and effectiveness of fly ash roads in the wake of a Jan. 3 snowstorm. Close to 50 miles of roads, made of material acquired from Georgia-Pacific at no cost, crumbled in the freezing temperatures, prompting the county to OK a $1.42 milion project to fix the damage.

“Our role has been kind of behind the scenes trying to push folks that live on the roads to lobby their elected officials and make sure that they have all the information they need,” Perry said Friday. “I think we are being very successful in giving individual residents a little more information that the county has given.”

Early this month, Effingham County Environmental Health officials and the Effingham County Board of Commissioners started sending postcards to homes on affected roads prior to work beginning. The postcards contain basic precautions residents should take, including encouraging the use of dust masks for outdoor activities within 150 feet of construction.

During the church meeting, some residents voiced worry about breathing fly ash particles and the impact of the substance on nearby water sources.  

In a news release in early July, Coastal Health District Health Director Lawton C. Davis, M.D., said, “Wearing a dust mask is always a good idea if you’re active outside for an extended period of time and there is a lot of dust, smoke or pollen in the air, particularly if you suffer from any kind of respiratory condition such as asthma. Since road repair work can generate more dust than usual, we want to encourage folks to take precautions to prevent any irritation that dust might produce.”

County Administrator Steve Davis said Saturday that he will gladly meet with the group Perry is assisting or anyone else to answer questions about ash road repairs, adding that there is no cause for alarm.

Whitaker Laboratories, an independent nationally certified lab, was hired to test soil and water near ash roads in the county immediately following the storm. Twenty samples were taken along 16 roadways and all results were within the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for the chemicals tested.

The residents at the church meeting voiced concerns about chemicals that weren’t included in the tests. They are also wary about air and water quality around the sites of road work.

“People expressed interest in getting more answers to their questions about how decisions are made regarding what roads are being repaired when and what the priorities are,” Perry said. “...That’s kind of what our interest is. I’m just trying to get residents to speak up in a more organized fashion.”

“We just want to make sure that the residents have resolution,” Perry added.

The repair process, which started in February, is expected to be completed by early 2019.