Rayonier AM to Continue Polluting Altamaha River

A Georgia superior court has ruled that a pulp mill’s visible, foul-smelling pollution of the Altamaha River in southeast Georgia can continue.

Representing Altamaha Riverkeeper, GreenLaw, Stack & Associates and the Southern Environmental Law Center successfully challenged Rayonier Advanced Materials’ pollution discharge permit in state administrative court. The groups charge that the limits on odor and color in the permit granted by the Georgia Environmental Protections Division (EPD) do not go far enough to uphold state water quality standards, particularly in low flow conditions.

 

During the administrative hearing in June 2016, nearly a dozen witnesses testified about the extent to which the 50 to 60 million gallons of effluent the pulp mill discharges into the river daily affects citizens’ ability to use the river for fishing, swimming, boating, kayaking, and other activities.

Following the administrative law judge’s finding that the permit violates Georgia water quality standards and that EPD must impose more stringent regulations to restrict color and odor in the polluted discharge, Rayonier AM and EPD filed an appeal in Wayne County Superior Court.

“We are disappointed with the decision and intend to appeal,” said Jen Hilburn, Executive Director & Riverkeeper for Altamaha Riverkeeper.  “Fishermen, kayakers and recreationists of all sorts are aware of the awful stench and stain that is pumped into the river daily by Rayonier AM, and that it interferes with citizens’ legitimate uses of the river. Without installing proper water treatment methods, we are concerned that Rayonier AM’s profitability will continue to receive priority over the rights of Georgians.”

“For far too long, Rayonier AM has fouled the water in Jesup, often for many miles downstream,” said Hutton Brown, Senior Attorney for GreenLaw. “The permit fails to adequately protect the water quality of the river and the many concerned citizens who submitted public comments.”

“Rayonier AM’s discharge into the river, which is clearly visible both at the river’s surface and from above, often causes a dark, malodorous plume to extend down the river and fishermen have complained that it renders fish inedible for many miles downstream,” said Don Stack of Stack & Associates. “Many of the people who fish the Altamaha are sustenance fisherman, individuals with limited income who rely on the river for supplemental nutrition.”

“Allowing a legacy of unchecked pollution to continue on one of Georgia’s greatest rivers is simply unacceptable,” said Megan Hinkle Huynh, staff attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Georgians rely on EPD to uphold and enforce protections for water quality—not only does the permit fail to serve that basic purpose, it has allowed one of the worst polluters in the state to degrade the Altamaha River at the expense of fish, wildlife and local citizens who depend on clean water.”

“Personally, I am baffled by the Court’s decision,” said David M. Paule, Executive Director of GreenLaw. “Similar plants around the world, many in third-world countries, are capable of discharging in a manner that does not so significantly discolor or impact the river. It is alarming that a company in Georgia would not be held to similar standards.”