Editorial-Opinion October 2011

Steve Burch | October 1, 2011

One Million Dollars.

It does have a ring to it.

That is the amount of money King America Finishing has agreed to spend to make up for killing 38,634 fish in the Ogeechee River in May, according to a consent order entered into between King America, a textile plant, and Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

However, no one yet has said how that money is to be spent, and King America is making up the list.

Before Christmas, King America has to provide a list of projects, with associated budgets for each project, to EPD for its review.

Neither sportsmen nor the Wildlife Resources Division, which includes the Fisheries Section, has a seat at this decision-making table.

Sportsmen lost fish in the river. WRD spent time and money investigating the fish kill. WRD is restocking the river, at its expense.

Yet there is no reason to believe the projects King America will include on its list will either reimburse WRD for its expenses or sportsmen for our losses.

King America was violating its discharge permit, and this was not the first time. EPD will not state that King America was responsible for that fish kill. The $1 million fine may be a very good investment for King America given two pieces of information obscured from public view.

According to the consent order, King America had nine violations of its discharge permit… this time.

And they have had the offending process operating since April of 2006.

One may reasonably conclude that for the past five years, King America has failed to properly treat its discharge. Now it has to spend $1 million.

Hummm. If the cost to treat the effluent exceeds $200,000 per year, King America is ahead of the game.

But the story does not end there.

Suddenly, there is a pot of gold on the banks of the Ogeechee, and the polluter gets to decide who benefits from the money it is about to spend. Is that not a head-scratcher? Imagine a drunk driver being fined for his offense, but being allowed to decide how and with whom his fine money would be spent.

I can imagine how county commissioners and town officials and legislators would all be interested in making sure some of that fine money — money which must be spent to “do good” in those communities — is directed to their pet projects.

EPD has created a situation in which the robber baron is now Robin Hood. I am personally disgusted.

I have seen no public input into resolving what is clearly a public harm. I have no reason to expect King America will reimburse WRD for its costs and labor investigating the fish kill. I wonder what it costs to pick up 38,634 dead fish? I also have no reason to believe sportsmen will be reimbursed for the cost to restock the river, or for the lost recreation because those fish are no longer there.

I mean Casey Anthony, the Florida mother whose child was missing and later found dead, is being forced to reimburse the searchers for their costs. Sportsmen and WRD should expect at least that from a company which knowingly and repeatedly breached its contract with the state to safely discharge into the river.

I think King America should first reimburse WRD for its costs, past and future, to re-establish the fishery in the Ogeechee River.

I think King America should create and fund an endowment whose proceeds will perpetually fund access to the river at its site and should annually, on the Saturday closest to the date of the fish kill, host a fishing tournament with tournament headquarters to be at their access site, and that cash awards should be funded from this endowment.

I think this endowment should be controlled by a board made up of past presidents of the Georgia Chapter of TU, the Georgia Bass Chapter Federation, the Coastal Conservation Association of Georgia and the Georgia Hunting and Fishing Federation.

And finally, each year at this tournament, I think the manager of King America, or whatever company follows it there, should be required to swim in the river downstream of its discharge, or fund the endowment with an additional $1 million.

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