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Plant gets new discharge permit

POSTED: November 21, 2013 7:57 p.m.

A new discharge permit has been issued for a Screven County textiles plant after recommendations from environmental groups were included in the proposal.

The state Environmental Protection Division announced Wednesday the discharge permit for King American Finishing has been granted and it also increased the penalties levied on the company.

"This new permit and consent order are based on a significant amount of time and effort from the associates in the EPD watershed protection branch," said EPD director Judson Turner. "This process also involved public comment and feedback, which helped to improve both the order and the permit. The result will be long-term environmental benefits for this river."

Don Stack of Stack and Associates, who has represented the Riverkeeper in its court and administrative battles with King America, said the settlements are strong and protective of the river.

"I feel much better," he said. I was telling our board chair the other day, on a personal level, I had no problem with my kids going into the river now. I wouldn’t have said that two years ago. I feel we have some important precedent-setting restrictions in the agreement. Hopefully, the state will start requiring that in all permits."

The EPD called the discharge allowed under the new permit the most highly-regulated in the state. The state has limited the plant’s treated wastewater discharge to no more than 8 percent of the total river flow or the design capacity of the plant’s treatment system, whichever is lower.

"We believe that this new permit will protect the river, and this settlement provides Ogeechee Riverkeeper with the means to not only closely monitor the river on an ongoing basis," said Riverkeeper executive director Emily Markesteyn, "but also creates processes for discussing changes to the permit in the event that any problems come to light. It is our belief that this is the first such provision ever implemented in Georgia. And with King America’s substantial contribution to our organization, we will be able to continue to monitor and improve water conditions for years to come."

King America executives also expressed their gratitude that the process to have the permit approved was over and were satisfied with the pact reached with the Ogeechee Riverkeeper.

"After a long and productive dialogue with the Ogeechee Riverkeeper, we are pleased that we have finally been able to make peace with one another," King America president Michael Beasley said in a release. "We look forward to continuing to work cooperatively with them in the coming months and years."

King America Finishing’s plant near Dover has been considered to be the culprit for a massive May 2011 fish kill that wiped out nearly 38,000 fish in an approximately 70-mile stretch of the Ogeechee River. Dead fish began turning up 50 yards downstream of the plant’s discharge pipe into the river. No dead fish were found at that time upstream of the pipe.

During the investigation of the cause of the fish kill, determined to be the result of the bacteria columnaris, an unpermitted production line of flame-retardant material was discovered. King America Finishing treats garments and uniforms with flame-retardant material for various firms.

New restrictions and more testing

Under the new agreement, the previous consent order that required the company perform $1 million in supplemental environmental projects has been discarded and replaced with a directive for $1.3 million in such projects.

A consent decree between the Riverkeeper and the company calls for King America Finishing to make a $2.5 million contribution to the organization. Part of that will be used to pay for independent analysis and monitoring on behalf of the Ogeechee Riverkeeper.

The company has spent $500,000 on new equipment for its wastewater treatment. The payment to the Riverkeeper is one of the largest in state history for a water-based environmental claim, according to Hutton Brown, senior attorney with GreenLaw and Stack’s co-counsel for the Riverkeeper.

The Ogeechee Riverkeeper has withdrawn its lawsuit under the federal Clean Water Act against the company, and King America will install a $2.5 million filtration system. Since July 19, 2011, the company has conducted more than 1,000 tests on the toxicity of its discharge and water sampled upstream and downstream of its discharge pipe.

The Riverkeeper is dropping other legal challenges against the company, as part of the agreement filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Savannah.

"The permit issued by the EPD is actually a small portion of the settlement the Ogeechee Riverkeeper reached with King America," he said.

Along with the restrictions, payments and new equipment, the plant also is limited on the amount of total dissolved solids, ammonia, sulfides and other elements that can be discharged, and it also is limited on how much the water color can change. Water color will be tested each week at two different collection points.

The EPD has set up water quality monitoring stations upstream of King America at Rocky Ford Road and downstream at Highway 301. The monitoring will include recordings of levels of dissolved oxygen, pH, conductivity and water temperature. Results will be posted on the EPD Web site.

KAF also will publish monthly discharge monitoring reports on a Web site available to the public for five years. Those reports will put on the Web page no less than 48 hours after they completed

"There is a level of transparency that is going to occur from this point forward," Stack said.

Riverkeeper experts also will meet with plant specialists no less than every six months to review data. There also is a provision to re-open the permit approval if the Riverkeeper believes the permit is not restrictive enough.

"There are details that should have been put in other permits already," Stack said. "It’s got mechanisms to really address, on both scientific and process standpoints, what is it that they are doing. There will be a study, separate from the Georgia Southern part, to evaluate the health of the river above and below the discharge. There are some significant changes that are called for in the agreement."

As part of the permit, other stipulations in the previous consent order, which had been rescinded, were included. The company will have to pay for third-party monitoring of its discharge for 18 months, with an expected cost of $75,000. A $1 million supplemental environmental project, requiring four continuous water quality monitors, also is part of the agreement. Georgia Southern University and the Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy in Augusta will team on an Ogeechee River research SEP, to include studying how drought and floods affect the river. GSU’s biology department will collaborate with SNSA on biological processes in the river.

Will skeptics and critics’ fears be allayed?

Stack said the old adage of the devil being in the details hold true for the agreement announced Wednesday. He’s hopeful that many of the plant and state’s critics along the river will support the settlement, once they have read it closely.

"But when people look at it, there are some really significant changes," he said. "When people take the time to read the agreement and what has been done, we’re hoping they’ll feel a lot more comfortable about it, and that’s there been really only one entity fighting for them the entire time, and that’s the Riverkeeper. And if we feel comfortable with it, hopefully that will give them some assurance that they feel comfortable with it."

Stack said the negotiations between the Riverkeeper and the company didn’t involve the EPD.

"We basically left the state behind on this," he said.

The agreement between the Riverkeeper and King America also showed that action can be done outside the state’s parameters, according to Stack. Property owners and residents, who leveled blame on the company for the river’s problems, didn’t spare the state in a series of public meetings on the permit and consent order.

"I think EPD basically had no choice because of the outrage of the people on the river," Stack said. "They made it very clear the state wasn’t doing a good enough job. They had no qualms about letting the state know that there was significant room for improvement and we were able to demonstrate that improvement can be reached."

However, Stack said he hopes the state uses the paradigm established by the Riverkeeper and King America in future permit applications.

"I would be very disappointed in EPD if they don’t take advantage of lessons learned here and say that to other dischargers and say, ‘if King American can agree to this, then you should be bound by the same processes and methodologies,’" he added. "I would be very disappointed if the state doesn’t incorporate these lessons learned."The company does not have to declare culpability for the May 2011 fish kill and also does not make any admission that it violated any law or regulation.

Stack also said he the plant’s discharge now is much different than it was 30 months ago.

"Obviously, the river is recuperating," he said. "We’ve looked at the data. We’ve had our experts meet with experts and all their processes. I feel comfortable the discharge is much different than it was."


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