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King America faces more civil suits

POSTED: September 2, 2013 6:28 p.m.

A Guyton couple has filed suit against King America Finishing and its parent company, Westex, for damages from the May 2011 fish kill.


Stephen and Denise Collins filed the suit Aug. 14 in Bulloch County Superior Court, alleging King America released chemicals into the Ogeechee River and caused the death of thousands of “fish, amphibians, birds and reptiles, including alligators.”


The Collinses’ suit, which also names King America plant president Michael Beasley as a defendant, alleges the loss of wildlife and the diminished use of their riverfront property is a result of pollution from chemicals discharged by the plant. They also claim the discharge has permanently damaged their property and resulted in a loss of value of their land.


David Bobrow of New York, N.Y., Savannah residents John Dickey and George Dickey, and William Slater of Eden also filed separate civil actions in the Bulloch County Superior Court on Aug. 14, citing King America, Beasley and Westex Holding Co. as defendants.


Those plaintiffs expressed similar complaints regarding loss of use, decreased property value and property damage from the chemicals discharged into the river by King America Finishing, which were alleged to have caused the fish kill and related wildlife deaths.


Slater’s civil action, along with others filed, points out that “absolutely no adverse effects to aquatic life have been observed upstream” from King America.


At least four civil suits against the Screven County textiles plant claiming property damage caused by Ogeechee River pollution remain pending, while more than 60 such suits have been resolved.


In the aftermath of what has been touted as the largest fish kill in the Ogeechee River history, property owners along the river filed numerous suits against King America Finishing.


About 38,000 fish were found dead along 70 miles of river downstream from the plant in May 2011. After many pointed fingers at the textiles plant, which discharges waste into the river, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division discovered the plant’s fire-retardant lines were operating without a permit.


King America Finishing continues to discharge without a permit while EPD officials review public input regarding a proposed consent order regarding the issue.


Bulloch County Superior Court Judge John R. Turner consolidated 63 cases against King America in April, and those suits have been resolved by court action, mediation or dismissal. While records remain sealed, many cases may have been resolved through a “comprehensive settlement agreement,” according to attorneys involved in some cases.


A release issued jointly by King America’s attorneys and Oliver Maner LLP, representing landowners, stated “The financial terms of the settlements are confidential and cannot be disclosed by any party.”


In that release, Beasley expressed satisfaction with the resolutions.


“We are so pleased that we have been able to resolve this dispute with so many of our neighbors,” he said. “We expect to be neighbors for a long time, and we needed to find a way to peacefully share the same community.”


Oliver Maner LLP attorney Greg Hodges also said he is pleased with the settlement.


“We worked long and hard to come to terms that everyone could live with,” he said.


Hodges also said he is confident King America’s current discharge is not harmful to life in and along the Ogeechee River.


“It’s apparent to me that King America has made a lot of changes since the fish kill, and now has the most tested, monitored and scrutinized wastewater discharge in the state of Georgia,” he said.


Local attorneys Gerald Edenfield, whose firm represents King America Finishing, and Dan Snipes, whose firm represents some landowners, referred to the joint release when asked for comment regarding the settlements.


Some civil actions by Ogeechee River property owners were filed in Bulloch County State Court, State Court Judge Gary Mikell said.


While there may be more pending and not yet filed, he said Friday that one civil action with “20 to 30 plaintiffs” was filed June 7, and another civil action filed earlier this year is “in mediation.”

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