Flat Creek earns “Dirty Dozen” designation thanks to Gold Creek Foods chemical spill last March



DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – The Georgia Water Coalition has released its 2018 Dirty Dozen last week — a report that lists places and practices that endanger the state’s water quality. Prominently featured on that list: Gold Creek Foods in the City of Dawsonville and Flat Creek.

The report points to the incident last March when a Gold Creek forklift driver punctured a 55-gallon barrel that contained ferric chloride which flowed into a retaining pond then into Flat Creek. The report states, “two days later, City of Dawsonville workers noticed the creek flowing bright orange and saw dozens of dead fish and traced the problem to Gold Creek Foods.”

The report also states, “The spill killed virtually all aquatic life in Flat Creek for nearly four miles. Crayfish, salamanders and fish littered the orange-tinged water of the creek as it flowed past a local elementary school and residential areas in Dawsonville. Georgia Department of Natural Resources investigators estimated that 8,262 fish perished, including 1,990 Cherokee darters.”

Flat Creek is a tributary to Shoal Creek and the Etowah River which provides about 13 percent of metro Atlanta’s drinking water, including large portions of Cherokee, Cobb and Paulding counties.

Industrial facilities in Georgia are supposed to have a plan in place to control spills and polluted runoff to prevent tragedies like that at Flat Creek. But, according to the report, the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) has only two and a half employees responsible for reviewing the stormwater plans at 2,800 facilities.

In the case of Gold Creek Foods in Dawsonville, EPD’s industrial stormwater team had not inspected the facility since 2013. Following the March spill, the inspectors found the area where ferric chloride and other chemicals were stored lacked structures to contain spills and prevent them from flowing to Flat Creek.

According to the report, “numerous complaints about pollution from Gold Creek Foods prompted regional EPD personnel to visit the facility. During one of those visits, the improper storage of chemical drums was noted and the company’s Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) was discussed. In fact, records show that water monitoring required by the SWPPP and conducted by Gold Creek Foods from 2015-2017 indicated regular violations of clean water benchmarks.”

But, EPD staff in Atlanta with the industrial stormwater team never completed a thorough review of the site. In the end, Gold Creek Foods got little more than a slap on the wrist and Georgia taxpayers were left to pay for the cleanup. The fine for the devastation the company caused to Flat Creek: $15,000!

The Department of Natural Resources personnel spent dozens of hours addressing and investigating the spill. The cost of the fish kill survey alone amounted to nearly $6,000.

Former Dawsonville City Councilman and now Dawson County Commissioner Chris Gaines is all too familiar with Gold Creek Foods habitual offender status.

“If EPD is lacking funds why would they use taxpayer dollars to clean up a mess created by someone else,” Gaines asked. “If GCF did incur some cleanup cost and with the negative PR surrounding this event hopefully lessons were learned.

“Dawson County is blessed to have so many great natural resources. It’s a tragedy that this happened. To me the EPD fine does not seem to effectively match the amount of permanent ecological damage done to the streams. In addition to the fine, all cleanup cost should have been the responsibility of the party that caused the situation in my opinion.”

When Gaines served on city council he often heard water department officials complain about the high density of “slugs” of wastewater that would kill microorganisms in the city’s wastewater treatment ponds.

“They told me they would fine (Gold Creek). But the fines were either not paid or so small it didn’t seem to be a hurdle that was curbing their behavior.”

Now a county commissioner, Gaines said the county has “reached out to the EPD and is setting up meetings to gain a better understanding of responsibilities and we stand ready to assist the city with its efforts to prevent this from happening again. We all should hope that this never happens again and that the EPD will be doing more inspections to ensure that GCF is doing everything possible to prevent situations like this from occurring again.”



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Chemical spill reported in Dawsonville’s Flat Creek


DAWSONVILLE, Ga. — Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officials are on the scene of a chemical spill this morning (March 23) at Flat Creek behind Robinson Elementary School.

According to a city of Dawsonville press release, the spill of ferric chloride took place Tuesday, March 20, when a 55-gallon drum ruptured at the Gold Creek Food facility. City Manager Bob Bolz said, “We were never notified.”

Bolz said the city discovered the spill two days later when city Utility Department personnel noticed discolored water in Flat Creek. On closer examination, they noticed dead fish and other aquatic life.

City officials immediately contacted Environmental Management Services, the city’s contracted company for environmental testing services. A PH test was applied, which showed the water to be very acidic. The company then notified DNR, which deployed both a fishery biologist of the Wildlife Resources Division and a representative of the Environmental Protection Division Hazardous Response Team.
The incident is under investigation by DNR.

According to the city’s press release, “Environmental Management Services has assured the city that there is no risk to drinking water.”

Dawson County School Superintendent Dr. Damon Gibbs said it is safe for students to attend Robinson Elementary School today, but they would remain indoors through recess to ensure no one gets into the creek, which flows behind the school.

City personnel notified all appropriate county departments of the spill.

The city’s press release also stated, “Gold Creek Foods, at the direction of EPD Hazardous Response Team personnel, began clean-up efforts utilizing Hulsey Environmental Services Thursday evening.”



Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at FetchYourNews.com


Hazardous Material Spill Contained on Roadway


Tim Satterfield

DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – A truck hauling insecticide was involved in a two-vehicle crash Friday afternoon at approximately 5 p.m. resulting in a hazardous material spill on Hwy. 53 East near the Etowah River.

A 300-gallon container came loose from the truck that was traveling downhill and struck another vehicle. Dawson County Emergency Services Deputy Chief Tim Satterfield said no injuries were reported.

Satterfield said about 30 gallons of the arsenic-based insecticide spilled onto the roadway. “It happened a couple of hundred yards away from the river and was completely contained on the road. Nothing leaked onto the roadside or into the waterway,” he said.

Satterfield credited the county’s Public Works Department for responding quickly and spreading dirt onto the spill. “They were there within 15 minutes and had a truckload of dirt ready to go.”

“We contacted the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) and they advised that a clay-based soil was best to use in the cleanup.”

Both lanes of Hwy. 53 were closed for nearly four hours.

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at FetchYourNews.com



With No Relief, State Sets Drought Restrictions


Numbering the 24th week of severe drought in Northwest Georgia, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Environmental Protection Division has issued a statement regarding water restrictions and other drought responses in our area.

droughtresponse_levels1_2_map_11172016Most of Georgia is now under some form of Drought Fighting Restriction with the exception of some of our very southernmost counties. You can enlarge the map to see exactly which countries are affected by the increased Level 1 and Level 2 Restrictions.

These State set restrictions detail when you can water your outdoor plants and landscape based upon your address. A two-day restriction dictates “even-numbered addresses and properties without numbered addresses may water on Wednesday and Saturday between 4:00 p.m. and 10:00 a.m.  Odd numbered addresses may water Thursday and Sunday between 4:00 p.m. and 10:00 a.m.”

This announcement comes on the heels of the announcements that the smoke cover in our area is expected to continue throughout the near future as authorities continue to battle the raging wildfires across the South East, with the Rough Ridge Fire being the major blaze in North Georgia.

Along with the drought restrictions, many counties are also declaring burn bans for residents to aid in fighting fires and drought.

Check out the full Press Release below to see more about the restrictions and what activities are fully prohibited under the EPD’s Authority.




Lake Level Six Feet Below Full Pool


ATLANTA – The water level at Lake Lanier continues to drop and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division has declared that a Level 1 drought exists in Dawson, Lumpkin, White and 50 other north Georgia counties.

The lake level has dropped more than 10 feet since the start of this year. On Dec. 31, 2016, the lake was at 1,075.18, more than four feet above full pool level of 1,071 feet mean sea level. By late June, it had plunged nearly eight feet to 1067.78.  Since then, it has dropped two more feet to 1065.35 as of Saturday.

The current drought is not nearly as severe as the one in 2007 but officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the EPD and local business and government leaders are concerned. After all, Lake Lanier is the engine that drives the economy of many lake counties.

EPD Director Richard Dunn said, “Water utilities have already taken action to ensure that water supplies are generally good, and practicing effective water conservation will help provide sufficient supplies through the coming months if dry conditions persist.”

In June, Army Corps of Engineers Natural Resources Manager Nick Baggett said the Corp would initiate low-level management action plans if the level drops to 1,066 feet, or five feet below full pool.

Now that the lake has fallen below that level, it is unclear whether those plans have been initiated.

Boat ramps the Corps operates are usually the first to go. “We’ve got dozens of boat ramps around the lake that the corps manages and at certain elevations, the boat ramps start to be unusable.”

Baggett said recently that the lake isn’t at a crisis point yet but he urged officials, as well as people who either live on the lake or use it for recreation, to keep an eye on its water levels and use caution.



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