Wednesday afternoon, the first steps to replenishing the tarnished and fouled Ogeechee River were taken, as thousands of fingerlings were released into the waters near the Highway 24 bridge.
Meanwhile, state lawmakers are continuing to compose a letter to state Department of Natural Resources officials, asking that as part of King America Finishing’s application to have its permit to discharge into the river extended that the company pay for an independent, third party to test what’s coming out of its pipe into the Ogeechee.
It is, at the very least, a reasonable request, especially given the evidence of how the fish kill in May was caused. Upstream of the plant’s discharge pipe, no fish were found to have died from columnaris, a bacteria caused by environmental stress. Fifty yards downstream of the pipe, fish dead from columnaris were found, and eventually 38,000 fish that died from columnaris were discovered for dozens of miles down the river.
Though the state Environmental Protection Division won’t specifically point the finger at King America Finishing, it also can’t be absolved of any wrongdoing. A $1 million charge against the company shows there is some culpability.
But what to do with that $1 million? And how to ensure that 38,000 fish don’t start floating dead in the river again?
Residents and lawmakers alike expressed frustration with the DNR at a meeting recently at the Mighty 8th Air Force Museum.
Some Ogeechee River residents are more than upset with King America Finishing and with the DNR, which didn’t discover an unapproved production line for five years.
Asking that the company hire an independent testing agency, at its expense, to ensure that whatever it discharges into the river isn’t harmful doesn’t seem like such an onerous demand. Residents along the river also have asked if the company can pay for testing of their wells, to make sure the groundwater they’re using for drinking, cooking and bathing also isn’t fouled by whatever it was that killed the fish and wildlife. Such testing could $400-$700 for each well. With today’s far more accurate mapping and use of GIS, it could be determined which wells might be at most risk from any damage to the river.
The company has said it wants to “make sure the Ogeechee River is protected.” Making a stipulation that it pay for third-party testing of its discharge doesn’t seem like that much of a high cost of doing business.