Environmental group blasts DNR board

ATLANTA — The board overseeing the state’s environmental protection agency lacks information, determination and funding, according to charges environmentalist levied at the panel during its monthly meeting Tuesday.

Members of the Georgia Water Coalition blasted the board while delivering copies of a report it calls “Georgia’s Dirty Dozen,” which lists 12 bodies of water that have sustained ecological damage.

Examples include the Ogeechee River, the site of the largest fish kill in state history, the Altamaha River where the group says discharge from Rayonier’s paper plant in Jesup destroyed fisheries, and the Oconee River, which the group says is threatened by construction of a coal-fired power plant.

OTHER FISH KILLS, such as the chemical spill in Athens in June 2010 that killed thousands of fish in a tributary to the Oconee River, could have been included, according to Flint Riverkeeper Gordon Rogers. Spills this year on Brier Creek, which feeds the Savannah River, and Turtle Creek, which also feeds the Oconee, prompted activists to call for more vocal advocacy, he said.

“There has been quite a run of spills and kills for part of a year. It’s time we did something about it,” Rogers said.

Lack of manpower because of statewide budget cuts have hampered the Department of Natural Resources, but the board has also been less than effective, he said.

“We think that money is part of the answer, but we also think that this board providing the political backstop is part of the answer,” he said.

Dianna Wedincamp, another member of the coalition and part of Ogeechee Riverkeeper, said people were disappointed in the lack of outrage expressed by the board when it got reports about the Ogeechee fish kill in May.

“The citizens have basically lost confidence in the agency that is charged with protecting the people and the natural resources of the state. I know this because I’m in the community every day,” she said.

BOARD MEMBERS DIDN’T discuss the specifics of the allegations because the department’s lawyer warned them, before Rogers and Wedincamp spoke, about state policy prohibiting statements on pending litigation.

The Water Coalition is suing the department over the $1 million settlement it agreed to with King America Finishing, a textile company whose Jesup plant dumped chemicals into the Ogeechee that led to the fish kill. The suit argues the agency should have levied a larger fine.

However, Ray, the chairman of the board’s Environmental Protection Committee, offered a general defense.

“I assure you every member of this board takes very seriously taking care of the environment,” he said.

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