Last week, the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) held a public hearing to solicit comments on the draft wastewater permit for King American Finishing (KAF) located in Screven County. The hearing was held at the Effingham County High School in Springfield and, although I was not there, I understand it was well attended.
I also understand that the majority, if not all, of the people in attendance were opposed to the permit being issued.
Add me to that list.
In a letter dated May 10, 2013, I have informed EPD that I am opposed to the issuance of the proposed permit.
The proposed wastewater permit is the second issued to KAF since May 2011, when more than 38,000 fish, along with other wildlife such as alligators, turtles and birds, died in the largest recorded aquatic environmental incident in Georgia history. The dead fish and other wildlife were located downstream from the discharge pipe of King America.
Since the time of this ecological disaster, the events and actions of EPD have been well documented:
• Since 2006, KAF had been operating two flame-retardant lines and had increased their wastewater discharge without getting the proper permits or disclosing it to EPD.
• Although EPD had inspected KAF several times after the fire-retardant lines were installed, they were not detected by EPD.
• Under a consent order signed by EPD and KAF in September of 2011, KAF is only required to complete approximately $1 million in environmental projects on the Ogeechee River.
• In August 2012, a wastewater permit was issued by EPD and subsequently withdrawn, citing the need for KAF to complete an antidegradation analysis, demonstrating that the lowering of water quality is necessary to accommodate important socioeconomic benefits.
That brings us to where we are today. EPD accepted written comments until the close of business on May 15. The proposed permit will be reviewed and likely issued in late July or August.
So why am I opposing it now?
Simply put, the public’s faith in EPD’s competency and ability to protect our environment and property owners has diminished to the point that they get a vote of no confidence.
My dealings with EPD date back to my service as mayor of Pooler in the mid 1990s when we were establishing the groundwork for the tremendous growth that Pooler continues to experience today.
At that time we fought many battles with EPD trying to get water withdrawal permits for our growing city and found it to be extremely difficult to work with them.
While serving in the Georgia state legislature in 2006, we reached an agreement with then-EPD director Dr. Carol Couch to send notification via registered letters to property owners whose land had been reclassified as a result of flood map revisions. The agreement was nixed after Dr. Couch left and a new director was named.
However, while trying to implement this notification process it was discovered that the flood maps used by EPD and county digest maps identifying property owners would not overlap and therefore property owners could not be identified.
As a result of this dilemma, I sponsored legislation creating the Georgia Geospatial Commission, a group of volunteers from public agencies, universities and government who would work to coordinate and compile geographical information in our state.
After three successful years, the Commission sunset last June and this year I sponsored SB11, recreating the commission to continue its fine work.
Citing the objections of state agencies, and although it passed in the State Senate unanimously, SB11 was vetoed last week.
EPD’s handling of the Ogeechee River disaster has been horrible. Communication with local legislators has been non-existent and citizen outcry has been brushed off as fanatical.
It is because of this pattern of poor communication and performance that EPD has earned a vote of no confidence by the public and the reason I oppose this permit at this time.
During my years of public service, economic development has been one of my proudest accomplishments.
Jobs are important to our state and so is our environment. KAF and our environment can and will co-exist. As a conservative, I believe there is no contradiction between protecting our environment and supporting the economy — we can and will do both.
Before any permit is approved, EPD must do a better job of communicating to elected officials and especially to our citizens and instilling in all of us the confidence that they can adequately guarantee the safety of our taxpayers, property owners and environment.
Sen. Buddy Carter can be reached at 421-B State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334. His Capitol office number is (404) 656-5109.
You can connect with him on Facebook at facebook.com/buddycarterga or follow him on Twitter @Buddy_Carter.