ATLANTA – A proposed mine near the Okefenokee Swamp and the cleanup of a wrecked cargo ship carrying more than 4,000 cars are among the environmental concerns flagged in a new report.
The Georgia Water Coalition’s annual report, called “Georgia’s Dirty Dozen,” is a list of what’s keeping the state’s environmentalists up at night.
This year, some of the group’s offenders represent lingering concerns – including how the state’s largest utility intends to store coal ash waste – but others are viewed as emerging threats, such as a pending bill that critics say would protect farmers at the expense of their neighbors’ private property rights.
“If this year’s report has a theme it would be ‘repeat offenders,’” said Joe Cook, Paddle Georgia coordinator with the Georgia River Network and the report’s author. “Seven of our dozen are making return appearances on this inauspicious list. Several have been highlighted for multiple years.”
Other not-so-new issues include the Rayonier Advanced Materials pulp mill in Jesup that is discharging wastewater into the Altamaha River, with a permit up for renewal next year, and the ongoing frustration regarding state lawmakers’ diversion of money that is supposed to go toward cleaning up scrap tire dumps and hazardous waste sites.
The group behind the report says its list isn’t focused on polluted sites. Rather, it wants to shine light on politics, policies and pollution problems they say pose the greatest threats to Georgia waterways and residents.
Newcomers to the list include a proposed titanium mine near the Okefenokee Swamp in southeast Georgia that the group says would destroy wetlands and threaten the ground and surface water in the swamp.
The group also flagged a bill that would add new limits to when someone could file a nuisance complaint against a farm. Costly lawsuits against the hog industry in North Carolina have spurred that legislative push here, with the agricultural industry trying to shield farmers from similar jury verdicts.
The report also called attention to the Golden Ray cargo ship that wrecked off the Georgia coast and is leaking oil into St. Simon’s Sound. The group said an assessment is needed to determine the damage, review the restoration plan and hold responsible parties accountable.
“We want to emphasize that addressing these issues through stronger enforcement of clean water laws, legislative action and sound permitting and policy decisions by state and federal agencies will ultimately lead to cleaner, healthier streams, rivers, lakes and estuaries,” Cook said.
Jill Nolin is a reporter with Georgia Recorder. She is an award-winning former reporter for The Valdosta Daily Times and CNHI. The Georgia Recorder is an independent, nonprofit news organization focused on connecting public policies to the stories of the people and communities affected by them.