Annual Paddle Georgia event begins Saturday, to pass site of environmental victory

About 400 paddlers are scheduled to depart Saturday from the Statesboro area in the 11th annual Paddle Georgia fundraising event, and their route will take them down a waterway where environmentalists won a major victory.
About 38,000 fish were killed in 2011 in the Ogeechee River. Speculation attributed the kill to a spill from King America Finishing, which produces a fire retardant fabric at a plant along river. The fish kill began about 50 yards below the company’s effluent pipe.
The state determined fish were killed by a disease. The state also determined the plant had been illegally releasing chemicals into the waterway.
The Ogeechee-Canochee Riverkeep, Inc. filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Statesboro. Ultimately, the company entered a $1.3 million consent decree on Nov. 20, 2013. The money was to cover the following costs:
• $75,000 – Third party monitoring of the plant’s effluent for 18 months;
• $158,600 – Improve Millen’s sewage treatment plant;
• $1,067,491 – Assessments of hydrological, biological and environmental components of the lower Ogeechee’s river system.
The paddlers will travel down the Ogeechee River on a seven-day, 95 mile trip.
Along the way, they will travel a blackwater river that traverses wide floodplain forests and coastal marshes. They camp at night, in tents often pitched on school grounds.
The trip will pass through five counties between Statesboro and Savannah: Bulloch, Screven, Effingham, Bryan and Chatham counties. Here’s how the event’s homepage describes the river:
• “One of our country’s last remaining free-flowing rivers, the 294-mile-long Ogeechee cuts a path through the swampy bottomlands of Bulloch, Screven, Effingham, Chatham and Bryan counties. It is wild, beautiful and unpredictable. Its broad, open paddle path will suddenly devolve into myriad narrow, braided channels choked with deadfall only to open again and inexplicably roll over shoals in the midst of this sandy, swampy terrain. Finally as it nears the coast, it spills into tidal marshes. Though its shores are dotted with fish camps, cabins and even stately homes, it is, thanks to its wide floodplain, remote and untamed.”
Georgia River Network, the event’s sponsor, issued a statement that participants will join in educational programs on the river’s cultural and natural history, tours of facilities and historic sites located along the river, nightly games and entertainment.
In addition, paddlers are to help with a research program. They’re to help collect chemical and biological data with the Georgia Adopt-A-Stream program to give a snapshot of the river’s current health.
The previous Paddle Georgia events have raised more than $240,000 for river protection efforts, according to Georgia River Network. This year, a portion of proceeds are to benefit the Ogeechee Riverkeeper, which works to protect the Ogeechee from its headwaters in Middle Georgia to the Georgia coast.
During past events, more than 3,200 paddlers have traveled a total of more than 900 miles of Georgia’s water trails. The rivers they’ve paddled include the Chattahoochee, Etowah, Ocmulgee, Flint, Coosawattee, Oostanaula, Broad, Savannah, Oconee and Altamaha.
The event attracts many notable benefactors. The list includes:
• Hennessy Land Rover Centres; Georgia Power Co.; Cary S. Baxter, CPA; Patagonia; China Clay Producers Association; CYA Agency, Inc.; Maxxis; Oglethorpe Power; R. Terry Pate, CPA; RS Industrial, Inc.; Simmons Bedding Company; Sole Source Electrical Contractors; StreamTechs; Troncolli Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram Subaru; The Outside World; AR Motorsports, and Cedar Creek Park RV and Outdoor Center, Half Moon Outfitters, Friends of Georgia State Parks and Geraldine’s Foods.
Partners in this year’s event include:
• American Canoe Association, Café Campesino, Ogeechee Riverkeeper, Georgia Canoe Association, Georgia Adopt-A-Stream and Project Wet.