Court reverses ruling, allows Georgia pulp mill to continue polluting river

Georgia’s Wayne County Superior Court building. (© David Siebert)

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, SELC, GreenLaw, and Stack & Associates 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 how 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.”

“Allowing a legacy of unchecked pollution to continue on one of Georgia’s greatest rivers is simply unacceptable,” said SELC attorney Megan Hinkle Huynh. “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.”

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