Local academy widens effort to land Ogeechee study funds

Augusta group contends it is best candidate for Ogeechee River studies

An Augusta research group widened its campaign this week to land almost $800,000 in water quality monitoring projects that might otherwise go to Georgia Southern University.


Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division proposed a consent order last fall in which a Screven County industry, King America Finishing, would finance $1 million in “supplemental environmental projects” to resolve violations discovered after 38,000 fish died along 70 miles of the Ogeechee River in May 2011.

The centerpiece of that proposal involves paying Georgia Southern $766,391 to study the river’s ecology and monitor its water quality.

Officials with the Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy told regulators this week at a public hearing in Springfield, Ga., that its successful programs on the Savannah River make it a better candidate for the Ogeechee project.

Bob Young, the academy’s president and CEO, said his group can establish long-term monitoring data that includes real-time monitoring and the availability of online data to the public.

“This proposal doesn’t include just a one-time look at the condition of the river, but a look over the long term,” Young said. “The big picture includes basic water quality data that is monitored continuously.”

Augusta businessman Monty Osteen, who submitted testimony at Tuesday’s hearing as a Georgia Board of Economic Development board member, said the academy’s seven years of successful monitoring experience along the Savannah River is evidence the group would do a capable job in other areas.

“The academy model that is being presented at this hearing allows the Savannah River model to be replicated in the Ogeechee River Basin in very short order,” Osteen said.

Also offering testimony was Margaret Doss, water quality manager for Columbia County’s Water Utility Division, which helps finance the academy’s Savannah River programs and benefits from the data gathered.

“Officials in Columbia County believe so strongly in the necessity of knowing and understanding the chemical and biological interactions in the Savannah River that they have funded and continue to fund real time research through the Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy,” Doss said. “I say real time because anyone, anywhere with a computer would have access to the same data with a simple point and click of the mouse — or a finger tap on their smartphone.”

EPD officials have made no decision on whether to amend the proposed consent order, which has drawn harsh criticism from the public as being too lax on King America.

State regulators will continue to accept public comments on the order through March 15, after which a final plan of action will be determined by environmental compliance officials and the division’s director and assistant director.

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