RELEASE: ORK files Letter of Intent to sue USACE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
06/03/2024
Contact: Meaghan Walsh Gerard
Communications and Administrative Director
meaghan@ogeecheeriverkeeper.org

ORK FILES LETTER OF INTENT TO SUE U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS
Letter cites insufficient diligence in Megasite permitting 

Ogeechee Riverkeeper (ORK), dedicated to the protection and preservation of the water resources of the Ogeechee Basin, filed a letter of intent to sue the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and others for not completing required steps and overlooking  water supply concerns during the permitting process of the Hyundai Megasite.

Previously called the Bryan County Megasite, the 2541-acre site is located near Ellabell in Bryan County, Georgia. The site sits on the edge of Black Creek, which flows directly into the Ogeechee River. Prior to its development, the area was home to a variety of aquatic and terrestrial habitats including ~625 acres of forested and scrub-shrub wetland, as well as streams.

The Clean Water Act requires USACE to collect pertinent information and analyze permit requests that impact or disturb “Waters of the U.S.”, which includes wetlands. ORK investigated official documents and found that despite major updates and changes to Megasite permit requests between 2019 and 2022, USACE did not reconsider these additional substantial impacts.

USACE is also responsible for considering the impacts of aquifer water withdrawals resulting from the applied-for action. Documents show that the agency accepted vague or nonexistent information regarding expected water usage, rather than insisting on specifics or conducting its own analysis. The application stated that the amount of water needed was “unknown,” yet USACE determined, “it would be reasonable to assume that the Bryan County supply is adequate” and “ would not require water withdrawals or a permit from Georgia EPD.” 

“We found that the steps taken did not fully assess the available information, or did not consider it at all,” Ben Kirsch, ORK’s legal director said. “There was an assumption that existing water utilities could meet the demand, but it’s the job of USACE to challenge that assumption and require more of the applicant.”

Furthermore, ORK contends that the Megasite project piecemeal review prevented the full scope of impacts from being considered by agencies or the public. The resulting approach failed the basic purpose of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and calls the entire process and approval into question.

“One of ORK’s directives is to be a watchdog for water resources and make sure permitting processes are done correctly, ” Damon Mullis, riverkeeper and executive director said. “When we find out that permit applicants withhold important information in an application and the permitting agency hasn’t done their due diligence, we will call them out and use the law to hold them accountable.”  

ORK also names the Department of the Treasury in the letter, as it disbursed millions of dollars in infrastructure funding without adhering to the NEPA requirements. 

Ogeechee Riverkeeper seeks the immediate halt in construction or development activity connected to the improperly issued permit until resolved. ORK also insists federal funding be frozen until the required environmental analyses are completed. Finally, ORK seeks the restoration of any and all environmental damage resulting from the improper approvals.

A copy of the letter of intent to sue and other related documents are available at ogeecheeriverkeeper.org/megasite.

About Ogeechee Riverkeeper: Ogeechee Riverkeeper 501(c)(3) works to protect, preserve, and improve the water quality of the Ogeechee River basin, which includes all of the streams flowing out to Ossabaw Sound and St. Catherine’s Sound. The Canoochee River is about 108 miles long and the Ogeechee River itself is approximately 245 miles long. The Ogeechee River system drains more than 5,500 square miles across 21 counties in Georgia. More at ogeecheeriverkeeper.org.

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RELEASE: Green Truck hosts fundraiser for ORK

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
05/13/2024
Contact: Meaghan Walsh Gerard
Communications and Administrative Director
meaghan@ogeecheeriverkeeper.org

GREEN TRUCK PUB HOSTS FUNDRAISER FOR OGEECHEE RIVERKEEPER
The business will match donations on June 18 

Green Truck Neighborhood Pub is partnering with Ogeechee Riverkeeper (ORK) for Membership Month by hosting a Community Night on Tuesday, June 18. From 5 p.m. – 9 p.m., Green Truck will match donations made to ORK that day and donate a portion of total sales. ORK staff will be on hand to answer questions and share information about the organization’s work. 

“As a local, sustainable business, we are proud to support an organization working for clean waters in our communities,” owner Whitney Shephard says. “This is a really simple way for neighbors to help neighbors. Just come in for dinner, and make a donation while you’re here. That’s it.”

“Green Truck Pub is a perfect real-world example,” says Damon Mullis, ORK executive director and riverkeeper. “They are an environmentally-conscious, sustainable, award-winning, and successful neighborhood business. Plus they offer great food and beer.”

View the event

ORK will have a table with information about its efforts to protect, preserve, and improve the water quality in the basin, with an emphasis on the local Protect The Vernon project. Staff will also be on hand to answer questions, share volunteer opportunities, and more. 

Membership numbers are crucial to ORK’s legislative efforts, grant applications, legal challenges, and more. The annual membership drive underlines the importance of demonstrating constituent support of ORK’s work. 

Event details: https://www.ogeecheeriverkeeper.org/events/green-truck-membership-night/

About Ogeechee Riverkeeper: Ogeechee Riverkeeper 501(c)(3) works to protect, preserve, and improve the water quality of the Ogeechee River basin, which includes all of the streams flowing out to Ossabaw Sound and St. Catherine’s Sound. The Canoochee River is about 108 miles long and the Ogeechee River itself is approximately 245 miles long. The Ogeechee River system drains more than 5,500 square miles across 21 counties in Georgia. More at ogeecheeriverkeeper.org.

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RELEASE: ORK celebrates the signing of HB 1223

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
05/10/2024
Contact: Meaghan Walsh Gerard
Communications and Administrative Director
meaghan@ogeecheeriverkeeper.org

SIGNING OF BILL IS FIRST STEP PROTECTING GEORGIA’S WATERWAYS FROM ‘SOIL AMENDMENTS’

HB 1223 received overwhelming bipartisan support

Ogeechee Riverkeeper (ORK), a leading environmental advocacy organization dedicated to the protection and preservation of Georgia’s waterways, celebrates the signing of House Bill 1223 into law. This legislation represents a small but crucial step forward in safeguarding the health and vitality of Georgia’s rivers, streams, and wetlands.

“We commend the Georgia leadership for recognizing the need for this law,” said Damon Mullis, riverkeeper and executive director of ORK. “HB 1223 will not only benefit our farmers by promoting healthier soil practices, but it will also safeguard our waterways from potential harm. However, this is just the first step in regulating so-called ‘soil amendments’ that pose a threat to clean water.”

HB 1223, supported by environmental groups across the state, bolsters protections for Georgia’s water resources by strengthening regulations related to companies providing ‘soil amendments’. It requires transparency on the contents of the amendments and provides some measures of enforcement. Local county officials recently impacted by the surge of sludge were frustrated by soil improvement practices as they lacked regulatory power to address the issue. Even with the new law, soil amendments will still fall under the jurisdiction of the state agriculture department, however, the department has committed to being more engaged in regulating the practice.

ORK has been a vocal advocate for strong environmental policies and has actively engaged stakeholders in promoting sustainable water management practices. Carly Nielsen, ORK’s Upper Watershed Representative, has been tracking affected sites, monitoring nearby waterways, and attending county meetings. “We believe that clean water is essential for the well-being of rural communities, affected wildlife, and healthy ecosystems,” said Nielsen. “The signing of this law is a testament to what can be achieved when community members, environmental groups, and policymakers collaborate for the common good.”

About Ogeechee Riverkeeper: Ogeechee Riverkeeper 501(c)(3) works to protect, preserve, and improve the water quality of the Ogeechee River basin, which includes all of the streams flowing out to Ossabaw Sound and St. Catherine’s Sound. The Canoochee River is about 108 miles long and the Ogeechee River itself is approximately 245 miles long. The Ogeechee River system drains more than 5,500 square miles across 21 counties in Georgia. More at ogeecheeriverkeeper.org.

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PDF of release – Signing of HB 1223

ORK attends Clean 13 Celebration

MEDIA ADVISORY
05/08/2024
Contact: Meaghan Walsh Gerard
Communications and Administrative Director
meaghan@ogeecheeriverkeeper.org

OGEECHEE RIVERKEEPER ATTENDS CLEAN 13 CELEBRATION
The event is hosted by Georgia Water Coalition 

April 30, 2024 – 2024 Clean 13 Celebration by the Georgia Water Coalition | photo by Erik Voss

Ogeechee Riverkeeper (ORK) attended the Clean 13 Celebration on April 30, 2024. The regular event is hosted by Georgia Water Coalition (GWC) to celebrate the state’s clean water heroes. GWC publishes this list not only to recognize these positive efforts on behalf of Georgia’s water but also as a call to action for our state’s leaders and citizens to review these success stories, borrow from them and emulate them. 

GWC is a consortium of more than 285 conservation and environmental organizations, hunting and fishing groups, businesses, and faith-based organizations that have been working to protect Georgia’s water since 2002. Collectively, these organizations represent thousands of Georgians.

ORK staff visits with Clean 13 heroes | photo by Erik Voss

ORK helped to celebrate Meredith Devendorf Belford and the protection of thousands of acres of land in Liberty County from development. Most recently, 430 acres was set aside as a nature center for public use and the rest preserved as a living laboratory for scientists and researchers to inform future land use policies and decisions to better protect the highly productive, but fragile, coastal ecosystem.The acreage includes marsh as well as maritime and upland forest along the Medway and North Newport Rivers.

April 30, 2024 – 2024 Clean 13 Celebration by the Georgia Water Coalition | photo by Erik Voss

ORK attendees: Damon Mullis – Riverkeeper and Executive Director
Kris Howard – Science and Policy Manager
Carly Nielsen – Upper Watershed Representative

Clean 13 report: https://www.gawater.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/Clean-13-2023.pdf

About Ogeechee Riverkeeper: Ogeechee Riverkeeper 501(c)(3) works to protect, preserve, and improve the water quality of the Ogeechee River basin, which includes all of the streams flowing out to Ossabaw Sound and St. Catherine’s Sound. The Canoochee River is about 108 miles long and the Ogeechee River itself is approximately 245 miles long. The Ogeechee River system drains more than 5,500 square miles across 21 counties in Georgia. More at ogeecheeriverkeeper.org.

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Fauna: Callinectes sapidus

Fauna: Callinectes sapidus
Blue crab (and others)

The Ogeechee River basin is teeming with a diverse array of crab species, each with its own unique characteristics and role within our aquatic ecosystems. From the feisty blue crab to the elusive stone crab, these fascinating creatures play a vital role in maintaining the delicate balance of life in our rivers and estuaries.

Photo by iNaturalist

Perhaps the most well-known of all crab species in our region, the blue crab is a true symbol of the coastal South. With its distinctive blue claws and sweet, succulent meat, the blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) is a favorite catch among recreational and commercial fishermen alike. But beyond its culinary appeal, the blue crab also serves as an important predator and scavenger, helping to control populations of small fish, mollusks, and other invertebrates in our estuarine habitats. Eggs of blue crabs hatch in salty waterways like inlets, coastal tributaries, and mouths of rivers, and are carried to the ocean by ebb tides. Eventually, young crabs settle to live in brackish water.   These estuaries are also needed for crabs to complete their molting and growing cycles.

Red-jointed Fiddler Crab Photo by Emilio Concari

If you’ve ever explored the muddy shores in our basin, chances are you’ve encountered the industrious fiddler crab (Minuca minax). Commonly known as the red‐jointed fiddler crab or brackish-water fiddler crab, they are known for their oversized claws and distinctive “fiddling” behavior, these small but mighty crustaceans play a vital role in shaping the structure and stability of our coastal marshes. By burrowing into the soft mud and feeding on organic matter, fiddler crabs aerate the soil, increase nutrient cycling, and provide habitat for a variety of other marsh-dwelling organisms.

Juvenile Stone Crab. Photo by Andrea Westmoreland

Less conspicuous but no less important are the stone crabs (Menippe mercenaria) that inhabit the rocky substrates of our river bottoms and oyster reefs. In addition to the typical molting cycle, these crabs can also lose a limb and easily grow it back. With their powerful claws and voracious appetites, stone crabs play a crucial role in controlling populations of bivalves and other shellfish, helping to maintain the health and productivity of our estuarine ecosystems.

Atlantic Ghost Crab. Photo by Kris Howard

The Atlantic ghost crab (Ocypode quadrata) is an omnivore that needs sandy beaches for its habitat. A great deal of its habitat has been affected by beachgoers or other human interaction. They are also typically nocturnal, so it is rare to spot them on a day by the shore. In 2023, a study showed that these crabs had self-awareness and could recognize themselves in a mirror.