Oily aftermath of wrecked cargo ship on list of ‘Georgia’s Dirty Dozen’

    The Georgia Water Coalition's 'Dirty Dozen' offenders list for 2019 includes the disaster of the oil spill from the Golden Ray, a vehicle carrier that's shown here soon after it capsized in St. Simons Sound in early September. Kevin Austin/Contributed

    A proposed mine near the Okefenokee Swamp and the cleanup of a wrecked cargo ship carrying more than 4,000 cars are among the environmental concerns flagged in a new report.

    The Georgia Water Coalition’s annual report, called “Georgia’s Dirty Dozen,” is a list of what’s keeping the state’s environmentalists up at night.

    This year, some of the list’s offenders represent lingering concerns – including how the state’s largest utility intends to store coal ash waste – but others are viewed as emerging threats, like a pending bill that critics say would protect farmers at the expense of their neighbors’ private property rights.

    “If this year’s report has a theme it would be ‘repeat offenders,’” said Joe Cook, Paddle Georgia coordinator with the Georgia River Network and the report’s author. “Seven of our dozen are making return appearances on this inauspicious list. Several have been highlighted for multiple years.”

    Other not-so-new issues include the Rayonier Advanced Materials pulp mill in Jesup that is discharging wastewater into the Altamaha River, whose permit is up for renewal next year, and the ongoing frustration over state lawmakers’ diversion of money that is supposed to go toward cleaning up scrap tire dumps and hazardous waste sites.

    The group behind the report says their list isn’t focused on polluted sites. Rather, they want to shine light on politics, policies and pollution problems that they say pose the greatest threats to Georgia’s waterways and residents.

    Newcomers to the list include a proposed titanium mine near the Okefenokee Swamp in southeast Georgia that the group says would destroy wetlands and threaten the ground and surface water in the swamp.

    The group also flagged a bill that would add new limits to when someone could file a nuisance complaint against a farm. Costly lawsuits against the hog industry in North Carolina have spurred that legislative push here, with the agricultural industry trying to shield farmers from similar jury verdicts.

    The report also called attention to the Golden Ray cargo ship that wrecked off Georgia’s coast and is leaking oil into St. Simon’s Sound. The group said an assessment is needed to determine the damage, review the restoration plan and hold responsible parties accountable.

    “We want to emphasize that addressing these issues through stronger enforcement of clean water laws, legislative action and sound permitting and policy decisions by state and federal agencies will ultimately lead to cleaner, healthier streams, rivers, lakes and estuaries,” Cook said.

    Jill Nolin
    Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.