Politics surrounding the Ogeechee River Fish Kill
On May 19th, 2011, over 38,000 fish were found dead along an 80 mile stretch of the Ogeechee River near Savannah Georgia in Screven County. This number also included around 15 different species as well. This fish kill was and is the largest of its sort in the history of the state of Georgia. Investigations later revealed that the fish died from columnaris, which can be a deadly bacterial disease when fish have been weakened by other stressors. King America Finishing plant, which is located along the Ogeechee River, became the target of further investigation due to the fact that the dead fish only appeared downstream from the plant, and none were found upstream from the plant. The plant also has a discharge pipe which dispenses into the river. After several visits to the plant pursuant to the fish kill, the Environmental Protection Division discovered that the company had been making numerous unauthorized discharges into the Ogeechee River, of flame-retardant chemicals for over the past five years. Even more surprising was the lack of knowledge that the EPD had of the discharge line, despite the fact that is own inspectors were said to have inspected the plant up to six time since 2006. King America Finishing had failed to inform the EPD that it had a new discharge line, which is required of them under their permit. “EPD rules require companies to notify the department when they want to add new discharge lines, then the state can decide whether to issue a permit. But that didn’t happen in this case, state officials said (Savannah, 2011).” Yet even still, many feel that this is inexcusable on the EPD’s behalf. After the investigations begin to dwindle down and a reasonable conclusion of who was to blame was drawn, the EPD proposed a million dollar payment plan for the damage to the Ogeechee River cause by King America. The 1 million dollars would go towards environmental projects on the river that the company must fund. “According to the Georgia Water Quality Act, the King America Finishing Co., which is based in Chicago, could have faced state fines of up to $91 million for alleged violations that go back as long as five years (Savannah, 2011).” The consent order that was reached between the EPD and King America potentially means that the company slipped past the possibility of tens of millions in fines.
The 1 million dollar payment, which is a mere drop in the bucket, has caused many to raise questions. The question of why such a small fine, considering the potential dollar amount of the fine that could be imposed, is an unavoidable question that the EPD will continue to face until a reasonable answer is supplied. While the “one million dollars may sound like a lot of money, especially in rural areas of Georgia with high unemployment. In this case, however, it amounts to just 1.1 percent of the total potential fine (Savannah, 2011)”.
Many people are not satisfied with the fine, including common citizens, public officials and legislators. Citizens have voiced their unpleasant opinion about the state’s lenient treatment of a polluting textile factory. “This sanction says very little—other than the state of Georgia is willing to forgive and forget and will sell its environmental safeguards cheaply (Savannah, 2011).” Several citizens are making attempts to fight back on the pretense that the sanctions were too little too late. Wayne Carney, who owns a riverfront property along the river, said “People haven’t been able to go in the water. If they get in the water there’s no telling when something’s going to come by that ain’t gonna be good for them (Landers, 2011).” There have been a number of swimmers who reported having sores or blisters on their skin. However EPD spokesman Kevin Chambers claims that...