Exactly two years ago the Ogeechee River experienced a devastating fish kill which left the river and the people who love it in a state of shock. Dead fish floated on the surface for nearly 70 river miles, through five counties. The state of Georgia, while investigating what killed the fish, uncovered an egregious offense: King America Finishing, a textile facility in Screven County, was violating state and federal law by discharging their wastewater without a proper permit. Not only was King America Finishing, a subsidiary of Chicago-based Westex, caught breaking the law, but they had been doing it for at least five years. The agency charged with protecting our natural resources, Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD), failed to notice.
Since that time, King America Finishing has been allowed to continue discharging during the long, contentious permit application process. EPD lost the public’s trust when they neglected to hold King America Finishing accountable in a meaningful way, and they continue to be criticized for allowing the illegal discharge to persist. Ogeechee Riverkeeper and its members, along with many other citizens of Georgia, have questioned why the state has refused to enforce the law and emphasize accountability over making a profit.
Ogeechee Riverkeeper has fought for over two years to see the state put a permit in place that is truly protective of the River, but even after a number of revisions, driven by public comment and fierce litigation on the part of the Riverkeeper, the current draft permit does not provide protective limitations for a host of chemicals and compounds including nitrates, phosphorus, formaldehyde, color and THPC, a relatively unknown chemical used in flame retardant finishing.
Earlier this month, EPD held a public hearing to once again receive public comment on a revised draft pollution permit for King America Finishing. For all the hardship and destruction the Ogeechee River has endured, any discharge permit should contain the utmost protection for the river. Yet this proposed permit is, again, a license to release large amounts of pollutants into the Ogeechee. Ogeechee Riverkeeper is prepared to appeal the permit should it be issued as written.
Frustrated with the Georgia EPD’s inadequate enforcement and apparent lack of will to uphold the law, Ogeechee Riverkeeper turned to federal law in its efforts to protect the Ogeechee River by filing a lawsuit under the Clean Water Act . Our goal is two-fold: 1) to stop harmful pollution from entering our waterways and 2) to hold King America Finishing accountable for their illegal discharge. That fight continues.
It is hard to believe that two years after a catastrophic environmental disaster that killed 38,000 fish, King America Finishing is still dumping without a permit. As long as polluted wastewater is allowed to enter the Ogeechee, Ogeechee Riverkeeper will be in the forefront of the battle to protect the river and restore it to its once-pristine state.