After Wilkes County fish kill, Riverkeeper urges stricter ag rules

Agriculture(KEYC News 12)
Published: Aug. 24, 2022 at 4:51 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga - In the aftermath of a waste release from a dairy farm that killed thousands of fish in Wilkes County, the Savannah Riverkeeper is urging the public to push officials for more regulation of so-called soil amendments.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division fined McAvoy Farms, also known as Mar Leta Farms, $5,000 after nearly 1,700 fish died in the Little River in Wilkes County on June 16.

The division found that 1.2 million gallons of sludge and other food byproducts overflowed a lagoon into a farm pond and then to a creek over a six-week period.

Farmers accept the byproducts as what’s called a soil amendment, which can be used in place of traditional fertilizer. But critics call it industrial waste because it’s made up of byproducts from poultry and other food processing plants, waste such as chicken blood or water used to rinse equipment.

State officials are accepting public comments on whether regulations on the practice should be changed.

“Savannah Riverkeeper needs your voice to be heard before September 14th. Poorly regulated soil injection practices throughout North Georgia are harming communities and the Agriculture Department wants to hear from you,” the Riverkeeper said in an email to supporters.

“These sites are currently poorly regulated and often impact surrounding neighbors in significantly negative ways,” the Riverkeeper said. “Many of you are those neighbors, and we want your voice to be heard.”

The Riverkeeper said it has identified some areas where regulations cold be improved.

For one thing, only bona fide agricultural operations should be allowed to accept soil amendments, the nonprofit says.

“If the sites are not producing a product benefiting from the distribution of ‘soil amendments’ the sites are dumps, not farms,” the Riverkeeper said.

Also, soil amendments and all of its components should be free of solvents and cleaners, the Riverkeeper said.

The organization also called for regulatory powers to extend to counties.

No matter how county officials feel about it, regulatory powers are currently only in the hands of the state.

“Really, this is not to us a farm product,” Wilkes County Commission Chairman Sam Moore said. “This is an industrial waste product that they’re really dumping on these rural counties.”

Moore and Oglethorpe County Commission Chairman Jay Paul said soil amendments top the complaint list from their constituents.

Farmers are often paid to accept the byproducts. At McAvoy Farms, records show the waste came from Nestle Purina’s pet food plant in Hartwell, where the liquid had been used to clean and rinse tanks and equipment.

“If this stuff has such value to it, why they having to truck it 60, 80, 100 miles away and a couple hours away and sometimes pay people to take it?” asked Paul.