Mon., May 20, 2013 3:00am (EDT)

Ogeechee Fish Kill, Two Years Later
By Orlando Montoya and Larissa Allen
Updated: 11 months ago

SAVANNAH, Ga.  —  
38,000 fish turned up dead in East Georgia's Ogeechee River two years ago today.  At the time, the company at the center of the controversy was violating a permit to discharge waste into the river.  It's since been seeking a permanent, legal permit.  (photo Ogeechee Riverkeeper)
38,000 fish turned up dead in East Georgia's Ogeechee River two years ago today. At the time, the company at the center of the controversy was violating a permit to discharge waste into the river. It's since been seeking a permanent, legal permit. (photo Ogeechee Riverkeeper)
At the time of the die off in 2011, the state was in drought and rivers flows were low.

Undiluted pollution might have contributed to killing 38,000 fish.

Now, water flows are higher than they were two years ago.

But Ogeechee Riverkeeper Emily Markestyn isn't ready to say the river is any healthier.

"The water levels are definitely higher," says Markestyn. "As to the health of the river, we are not certain. We still need some answers on what happened and how we can not only prevent it from happening again, but getting the restoration efforts back up."

Environmentalists say waste from King America Finishing in Screven County caused the kill.

The state hasn't officially linked the company to it.

Jim Ussery, Assistant Director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, says the river is "absolutely" healthier than it was two years ago.

"Even though the company has been allowed to continue the discharge, the discharge that they have now is much, much different," says Ussery. "We've tested weekly for toxicity and so we know it's safe. The health of the river is excellent. We've not seen any problems at all."

At the time of the fish kill, King America Finishing, the company at the center of the controversy, was violating a permit to discharge waste into the river.

The company has since been seeking a permanent, legal permit.

Christy Eikhoff of King America Finishing faults environmental groups for delaying the permit's finalization.

"I think it's safe to say that everyone involved would rather spend more time making their important products and less time with lawyers," says Eikhoff.

That permit is expected to be finalized in the next two months.