Savannah Riverkeeper has filed notice that it will sue KaMin, LLC.
On Thursday, Jan. 12, the agency filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue KaMin for illegal filling of wetlands and failure to properly permit ongoing cleanup operations.
The filing of this notice is part of an ongoing investigation that is over three months long, looking into a major fish kill in October that killed thousands of fish in Brier and Reedy Creeks, and the more recent kaolin slurry spill into Reedy Creek that occurred in early January. The spill was caused by a pipe failure near the Highway 17 bridge over Reedy Creek. Over 600 tons of kaolin slurry was spilled into the creek.
“Our investigation has shown Reedy Creek and its surrounding wetlands were heavily impacted with this over 670 tons of kaolin slurry, and it is our intention to ensure that remediation activities are done in a proper fashion,” said Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus. “The wetland areas serve as the kidneys of the water system, and failure to properly remediate the damages done to these areas will not only continue to harm the wetlands themselves, but all of the water flowing downstream.”
As of Monday, Jan. 16, the Riverkeeper had not received a response from KaMin in regards to the notice.
Bonitatibus said that workers from KaMin were attempting to clean up the river but were not doing it properly. She said they were using pipes to suck the kaolin off the bottom of the river and were trying to filter it out.
“They were probably doing more harm than good, stirring all the stuff back up,” she said.
Bonitatibus said at this point they are not sure what the remediation of the creeks will involve. She said several inches of kaolin clay is atop what was once a fully functioning system and it has destroyed the food chain.
“But trying to find the fastest solution and get it done as fast as possible is definitely not the thing to do,” she said.
KaMin Vice President Doug Carter said the company has been and is continuing to work diligently at the site of the spill to remove as much of the kaolin as possible.
“In addition we have used our intake pumps on Reedy Creek to pull as much of the water as our permits will permit into our plant for processing and subsequent release,” Carter said. “This is an ongoing process that has worked effectively to capture the kaolin.”
Bonitatibus said at this point they do not know what caused the break in the pipe that caused the kaolin spill. Carter said the investigation into the break is still ongoing, however it is likely that damage to the pipeline corrosion barrier occurred when a third party installed a utility line and damaged the outside covering of the pipe. He said this damage likely led to accelerated exterior corrosion of the pipe causing the failure.
Carter said KaMin is investigating other sections of the pipeline where it appears similar damage could have been done. The pipe is out of commission while the investigation into the rupture continues. Carter said the pipe was originally installed in 1988 and would normally have a lifespan of about 40 years.
Bonitatibus said the results of tests done in regards to the October fish kill led them to believe the incident was related to a discharge pipe belonging to KaMin. The Georgia Environmental Protection Division reported that the cause of the fish kill was related to a drop in pH. The Riverkeeper said in October that the characteristics of the fish kill indicated poisoning by aluminum sulfate, which is used as a coagulant in kaolin mining and sewage treatment. However, the October incident is not specifically mentioned in the notice of intent to file suit.
The notice states that KaMin is in violation of the Clean Water Act as a result of the serious and ongoing unpermitted discharges from its kaolin mine or plant. The Clean Water Act was passed by Congress in 1972 to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation’s waters. The achieve this objective, the act prohibits the discharge of any pollutants into the waters of the United States except in accordance with permits issued under the act. The act includes dredged spoil, rock, dirt and sand, among other materials, as pollutants.
It is also stated in the notice that if within 60 days KaMin does not provide a complete remedy for the legal violations arising out of the illegal filling of waters of the United States, Savannah Riverkeeper intends to file a citizen suit in the United States District Court against KaMin for ongoing violations of the Clean Water Act, seeking an injunction compelling KaMin to comply with the Act, a complete remedy for the existing violations, and civil penalties of $37,500 per day for each day of violation, plus costs of litigation, including attorney and expert witness fees.
Bonitatibus said that any money won in the suit if it does go to court will be used for the remediation of the waterways. In order to remedy the violations of the Clean Water Act, the notice states that KaMin must restore the wetlands to their pre-fill conditions, and must provide mitigation for the temporal loss of functions and values that these waters suffered since the fill began. It also states that any remedial action will likely require a Section 404 permit from the Corps of Engineers.
The Riverkeeper said this permit will give them permission to work in the wetlands, alter the flow of water, and do what needs to be done. She said as far as they can tell, they did not have such a permit when they began remediation last week.
Carter said since the time of the pipeline rupture on Dec. 31, 2011, KaMin has been actively working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to monitor and mitigate any impact on the local ecosystems and the water quality in Reedy and Brier Creeks
“Our information is being shared with these organizations on a regular basis,” Carter said.
Bonitatibus said the Riverkeeper does not want to have to go to court.
“We aren’t saying here is a notice, we’ll see you in court in 60 days, we are notifying them that they have 60 days to come up with an appropriate solution to the problem and if not, then we will see them in court in 60 days,” she said.
Bonitatibus said the decision to send a notice of intent to file suit is not something the Riverkeeper decided to move forward with on a whim, but is something the citizens are asking for. She said it is the organization’s job to speak for the citizens and give them a voice in the clean up and restoration process.
“The data collected to date indicates that the pipeline rupture has had no significant impact on the local ecosystem and has not affected the water quality for any downstream use,” said Carter. “We regret this incident occurred and are working diligently to minimize its impact on our community and the environment. The safety of our employees and our commitment to the local communities and the environment where our employees live and work remain our number one priorities. We remain focused on this issue until it is fully resolved to the reasonable satisfaction of all stakeholders.”