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Ogeechee Tops Dirty Dozen
Thursday, 15 November 2012

November 15--  The Ogeechee RiverKeeper issued the following news release this morning.

For the second year in a row, the Ogeechee River is # 1....but on a bad, bad list. 

Yesterday Georgia's leading water protection group named its "Dirty Dozen" for 2012, exposing the worst offenses to Georgia's water. The sites range from an unnecessary reservoir in northeast Georgia to a tire dump in southwest Georgia.The Georgia Water Coalition is a consortium of 175 conservation and environmental organizations, hunting and fishing groups, businesses, and faith-based organizations that have been working to protect Georgia's water since 2002. Collectively, these organizations represent more than 300,000 Georgians.

"This list not only highlights some of the most egregious water pollution problems in our state, but also calls attention to state policies that harm our rivers and waste our tax dollars," said April Ingle, executive director at Georgia River Network. "The sites on this list are examples of Georgia’s failures to protect our water, our fish and wildlife and our communities."

Topping the list for the second year in a row is the Ogeechee River where King America Finishing has been illegally discharging toxic pollution, highlighted by the devastating fish kill last year. A hazardous waste site adjacent to Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Glades Reservoir proposed near Gainesville, a Flint River groundwater injection experiment near Albany, Richland Creek Reservoir proposed in Paulding County and Rayonier's pulp mill in Jesup round out the top six.

Minimum flow requirements on the Chattahoochee in Atlanta ranked seventh on the list, followed by a century-old navigational cut through the Satilla River salt marsh, a landfill with ties to Gov. Nathan Deal in Gainesville, Tired Creek Reservoir proposed near Cairo, the expansion of the Vogtle Nuclear Power Plant on the Savannah River and a tire dump in Cuthbert.

The Coalition's full report details the history of each site and provides solutions to correct these ongoing pollution problems and eliminate the listed threats. It is available online at: http://www.garivers.org/gawater/dirtydozen.htm.

The Coalition faults continuing funding cuts to Georgia's Environmental Protection Division (EPD), political cronyism at the highest levels of state government and the wasteful use of state tax dollars as the primary causes of these ongoing threats to our state's streams, rivers, lakes and coastal areas.

EPD has seen its funding cut by 44 percent and staff cut by 23 percent (250 positions) since 2008, seriously jeopardizing its ability to enforce the state's environmental laws.

Even more problematic, said the Coalition, is the cronyism that puts campaign contributors and their business interests on the Governor-appointed Department of Natural Resources Board, which oversees EPD—the agency that regulates those same businesses.

Board members who have spoken up for the protection of waterways have been systematically removed from the board and replaced with political cronies. Of the 16 members currently serving, 11 have ties to entities that EPD regulates. Even the current Director of EPD, a political-appointee of Gov. Nathan Deal, previously served as a lobbyist for a firm that represents industry and business groups.

"The Deal Administration's appointments and actions suggest that enforcing environmental laws are not a priority," said Joe Cook, Executive Director & Riverkeeper with the Rome-based Coosa River Basin Initiative. "Track the money divvied out in Gov. Deal's new water supply program and you get further clarity about this administration's priorities and allegiances." 

In August, the Deal administration directed $102 million in state dollars to reservoirs and water supply projects of dubious need, including some $9 million in state "investments" that directly benefited businesses and individuals that were major donors to his gubernatorial campaign, according to the Coalition.

At the same time, state funding for lower cost projects to maximize existing water supplies has languished.

"The $102 million that Gov. Deal directed to questionable and environmentally destructive water supply projects this year is more than three times the $30 million in state dollars invested by the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority in water conservation and efficiency projects from 2006-2010," said Sally Bethea, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper

The Dirty Dozen list was compiled by the Coalition after taking nominations from member groups across the state. This is the second such list. While four issues from the 2011 Dirty Dozen made return appearances this year, other issues did not return to the list this year because they were resolved; still others continue to threaten our water. Updates of the 2011 Dirty Dozen are included in the full report which can be viewed at: http://www.garivers.org/gawater/dirtydozen.htm.

What's Ogeechee Riverkeeper Doing?

 "We have an obligation and responsibility to the river basin and its people to stop illegal and harmful discharge through all available means," states Emily Markesteyn, Executive Director.

On Tuesday, Ogeechee Riverkeeper filed a petition for mandamus in the Superior Court of Screven County. Petitioning for mandamus asks the court to require a public official to perform a non-discretionary duty; in this case the Petition for Mandamus asks the Court to stop Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) from allowing King America Finishing (KAF) to discharge pollutants without a permit.

"We have tried to work cooperatively with the State to force King America to follow the law, which is very clear that unpermitted discharges are illegal," says Don Stack of Stack & Associates. "To date, however, the State has continued to allow this illegal discharge no matter the environmental harm. We therefore are going to ask the Court to require EPD to do what it has been unable to do on its own."

EPD pulled KAF's discharge permit in October, stating an anti-degradation analysis was required. Ogeechee Riverkeeper agrees that this analysis needs to be done. 

 
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