A Spalding County judge has blocked the Ogeechee Riverkeeper's attempt to force the EPD to stop the flow of chemicals into the river.
Riverkeeper attorney Don Stack said he expected the decision and said his client will appeal it to the Georgia Supreme Court.
"We're not surprised," he said, "I think given the politics of the state, and the, for lack of a better word, hypocrisy of the state in terms of trying to say, 'Well, we're developing businesses, but we're doing it at the expense and at the health of the residents who are already here.'"
The riverkeeper had sued Judson Turner, director of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Environmental Protection Division, in an attempt to force him to stop King America from discharging wastewater from flame retardant lines at its Screven County plant. The EPD's lawyers succeeded in moving the case to Spalding County because that's where Turner lives.
A massive fish kill in May 2011 is at the heart of the lawsuit. An estimated 33,000 fish died, making it the largest such incident in Georgia History. EPD investigation after the kill uncovered that King America, although permitted to discharge in the river, was dumping improperly through flame retardant lines. The riverkeeper and several people who own property along the Ogeechee have said they suspect King America's dumping caused the kill – although low water levels and high temperatures also are thought to have contributed. No definitive cause has yet been found.
Spalding County Superior Court Judge Christopher Edwards wrote in his ruling, issued Thursday, that the jobs created by King America outweighed any potential environmental impact.
"The legislature and the Director are both authorized by law to make these ‘guns or butter' economic decisions," Edwards wrote, "balancing the externalities of pollution – our innocent children will swim in an ocean we are allowing to contain some small quantity of formaldehyde and other pollutants – against the benefits of industry – the parents of those same innocent children have jobs and our workers including brave firefighters have fire retardant clothing."
Edwards also wrote that the riverkeeper should turn to federal law – the Clean Water Act – to try to stop King America from dumping.
Last summer, the riverkeeper took Edwards advice, filing a Clean Water Act suit that is pending in federal court.
King America issued the following statement on Edwards' decision:
"King America Finishing is very pleased that the Spalding County Superior Court denied the legal action seeking to forcibly shut down the plant in Screven County. We are also pleased with Judge Edwards' ruling that the Georgia EPD has acted reasonably in its actions both to protect the Ogeechee River and to protect the jobs of the hundreds of Georgians who work at the King America plant. We look forward to continuing to manufacture our life-saving products in full compliance with environmental laws and regulations."
PHOTOS: Fish, alligators dead in Ogeechee River March 20: Judge dismisses lawsuit from Ogeechee Riverkeeper March 5: Hendrix Sports Shop files lawsuit against King America Feb. 13: William EasonMore >>
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