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Judge denies petition against river discharge

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POSTED: March 20, 2013 11:45 a.m.

Ogeechee Riverkeeper Emily Markesteyn said she is “disappointed” in a Georgia judge’s denial of a petition seeking a halt on a Screven County textiles industry from discharging wastewater into the Ogeechee River.
The Ogeechee Riverkeeper organization, which filed the petition, does not have standing and has other ways to seek relief under the federal Clean Water Act, Spalding County Superior Court Judge Christopher C. Edwards ruled last week.
“It is disappointing,” Markesteyn said. “But, we still have a (pending) Clean Water Act federal lawsuit.”
That suit is currently under review by a federal judge, who will consider a motion to dismiss filed by King America’s attorneys.
“We are waiting on a ruling on that motion,” Markesteyn said.
She said she has confidence in that case being successful in halting the textiles company from discharging waste without a permit.
Lee DeHihns, an attorney representing the textiles company, King America Finishing, issued a statement from the company praising last week’s Georgia court ruling.
“King America Finishing is very pleased that the Spalding County Superior Court denied the legal action filed by the Ogeechee Riverkeeper seeking to forcibly shut down the plant,” the statement says. “We are also pleased with Judge Edwards’ ruling that the Georgia (Environmental Protection Division) has acted reasonably in its actions both to protect the Ogeechee River and to protect the jobs of the hundreds of Georgians who work at the King America plant. We look forward to continuing to manufacture our life-saving products in full compliance with environmental laws and regulations.”
The Ogeechee River has been the subject of much public discussion and litigation since more than 38,000 fish died in a 70-mile stretch — all downstream, not upstream, of the textiles plant – in May 2011. Dozens more fish died in 2012.
While an investigation by EPD ruled that the cause of the fish kill was columnaris, a bacterial disease caused by environmental stress, former Ogeechee Riverkeeper Dianna Wedincamp and others blamed the company’s discharge for exacerbating the river’s already drought-stressed condition.
The Riverkeeper filed the petition in November seeking a writ of mandamus that would have required Judson Turner, the director of EPD, to order King America Finishing to cease operation of its Screven County facility flame retardant lines.
At a hearing before Edwards on Feb. 26, Dr. Elizabeth Booth, with EPD, testified that when the agency first discovered the fire retardant lines, they were discharging unlawful levels of pollutants directly into the Ogeechee River.
She testified that the company has cooperated with EPD and that monitoring and test results showed “the company’s discharge was neither toxic nor violating water quality standards,” Edwards wrote in his opinion.

Read more in the March 20 edition of the News.

 

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