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As Ogeechee floods, thoughts turn to pollution upstream

“The forecast has it rising to just shy of 11.5 feet (at Eden) in the next 24 hours, then staying level a day or two,” National Weather Service Meteorologist Julie Packett said Tuesday afternoon. “After that we have additional systems bringing additional rainfall and the levels could rise.”

Recent years have brought drought, but February and March flooding is the long-term norm for the Ogeechee and not much of a concern to those who know its rhythms, like Connie Shreve, who owns and operates Ogeechee Outpost in Ellabell.

“It’s definitely rising,” Shreve said on Tuesday afternoon. “Our river lot is almost completely underwater. It may be under our house by Friday.”

Like many riverfront houses, hers is on stilts.

“We’ll just go out there and move everything,” she said. “For a long time, this happened every year and about this time of year.”

Effingham County Emergency Manager Ed Myrick said he had no reports of damage.

But the high water has some residents worried about what else is flowing into the river, particularly from a textile processor in Screven County. After a major fish kill on the river in 2011, regulators found that King America Finishing had been illegally dumping waste from its fire retardant line for five years.

“It’s giving King America a chance to get rid of all the stuff they’ve been storing, all the stuff they haven’t been able to dump,” said Wayne Carney, who owns about 12 acres of riverfront property in Bryan County. “When it’s low they can’t dump nothing, but when it’s high, man, they get to throw that valve wide open. They get to dump 10 percent of the river flow.”

That’s not the case, said Lee DeHihns III, an attorney with Alston & Bird, which represents King America Finishing.

“KAF’s discharge during the flood stage is the same as before,” DeHihns said. “We are not doing anything differently simply because the river flow is increased. The 10 percent level is designed to protect the river when the river flow is low.

“One additional point is that even at normal river flow, our discharge is typically only about 3 percent of the river flow, or approximately 10 cubic feet per second. At the USGS level today of 4,800 cubic feet per second, KAF’s discharge flow is approximately 0.2 percent of the river flow.”

Environmental Protection Division Assistant Director Jim Ussery confirmed that levels of discharge contaminants from King America should be lower in times of high flow.

“The facility has limits on all constituents that cannot be exceeded regardless of flow,” he said. “There are additional constraints during low flow periods and contaminants are reduced proportionately. The volume of contaminants does not increase during periods of higher flow. Compounds in the discharge will be even lower in the river due to dilution and not greater.”

Specific monitoring data from the Ogeechee was unavailable late Tuesday but would be provided today, said EPD spokesman Kevin Chambers, who added that floods typically bring a risk of contaminants such as fertilizers and petroleum products flowing from land into the river.

Ogeechee Riverkeeper Executive Director Emily Markesteyn said landowner Carney had a valid concern.

“Not to beat the same drum, but they’ve been caught lying before,” she said of King America Finishing. “Proper enforcement is necessary no matter what the permit says.”

Moreover, she said, the company is actually operating without a permit for the fire retardant line, an issue that’s the subject of ongoing litigation between the Riverkeeper and the EPD.

“We have a polluter on the river,” Markesteyn said. “They don’t have a permit right now to abide by.”



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