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Riverkeeper federal suit against King America can proceed

POSTED: June 20, 2013 6:50 p.m.

A lawsuit by an environmental group against a textile plant for a widespread May 2011 fish kill along the Ogeechee River can go forward, a federal judge said Wednesday.

Judge Lisa Godbey Wood, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, ruled that the Ogeechee Riverkeeper’s claims against King America Finishing can go forward. King America Finishing sought to have the Ogeechee Riverkeeper’s suit dismissed.

"We are very pleased that the court has recognized the legitimacy of ORK’s efforts to protect the citizens of the state and has upheld the heart of our case, the fact that King America Finishing has been discharging without a permit," said Emily Markesteyn, executive director of Ogeechee Riverkeeper.

The Riverkeeper and attorneys Stack and Associates and GreenLaw filed against King America Finishing on July 23, 2012, seeking to force the Screven County textile plant to stop discharging into the Ogeechee River and also charged that the company was violating the federal Clean Water Act. Judge Wood ruled that the Riverkeeper was properly bringing claims against KAF for formaldehyde, ammonia, color and pH levels in the river. More than 38,000 fish were killed in May 2011, with the dead fish found downstream of the plant’s discharge pipe into the river.

The company started two additional flame-retardant lines in 2006 but no permit was issued for those two lines to have their wastewater discharged into the river.

Judge Wood also ruled that the state did not allow the public the same level of involvement in its regulatory set-up as is found in the federal law. King America argued that the state Environmental Protection Division’s action against the company was comparable to the federal level and precluded the Riverkeeper’s legal action.

The Riverkeeper also alleges that the textile plant knowingly violated the Clean Water Act for six years, and the discharge resulting from that led to the fish kill. The suit also requests the illegal discharge be stopped and that King America Finishing be fined.

"In addition to addressing the continuing illegal discharges into the river from KAF, Judge Wood also ruled that the state’s regulatory scheme for allowing citizens of this state who are most directly affected by such illegal discharges is not comparable to the minimum standards intended by the enactment of the Clean Water Act more than 40 years ago," said Don Stack of Stack and Associates.

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