An organization committed to protecting the Ogeechee River basin will hold its annual meeting and membership drive from noon until 3 p.m Saturday at Love’s Seafood Restaurant.
The Ogeechee Riverkeeper is “an organization looking out for a precious natural resource, the Ogeechee River, and the communities and people whose livelihoods depend on it being swimmable, drinkable and fishable,” according to Emily Markesteyn, the group's executive director.
She said the organization has three main program areas: watershed watch, healthy waters agenda, and hometown waters.
“These program areas encompass the many ways we work to ensure clean water in the Ogeechee River basin,” Markesteyn said. “We promote the importance of our waterways through hometown waters education, advocate for their protection through our healthy waters agenda and investigate and stop pollution through our watershed watch program.”
Ogeechee Riverkeeper is a member-based, non-profit organization, “so we rely on people to join the organization through annual dues,” according to Markesteyn.
Volunteering on river cleanups, paddle trips, and working in community outreach are ways members can get involved in the organization.
“We also rely on our members and volunteers to promote our work with their friends, neighbors and local communities,” said Markesteyn. “People are also the eyes and ears on the rivers, so we count on them to alert us of any problems or pollution issues.”
Markesteyn said it is important for people to know and care about the problems that face the Ogeechee River basin because “the health and vitality of the Ogeechee River and its smaller creeks, wetlands and marshes directly relates to the health of the communities and people who live in the area.”
“People need clean water to survive and it’s everyone’s responsibility to ensure it’s clean and available for future generations,” she said.
Love’s Seafood owners Fulton and Donna Love have strong ties to the river.
“I have lived on the Ogeechee most of my life,” said Donna Love, a board member of the Ogeeche Riverkeepers. “Living in Richmond Hill has afforded us all the opportunities to enjoy the river, whether we live on it or not. (But) I think that most of our residents are unaware that the Ogeechee River, which is 294 miles long, flows generally southeast to Ossabaw Sound. The watershed covers over 5,500 miles,”
Love continued, “my family’s livelihood has come from the Ogeechee River, not just the location of Love’s, but it also once afforded us all of the catfish, for the restaurant, from its waters.”
But then the 2011 fish kill served as a wake-up call for many. An estimated 38,000 fish were found dead in November and the kill was eventually traced to dumping by King America Finishing, a plant in Screven County.
“The major fish kill in the Ogeechee, that we saw down as far as our home, made me realize that there are many industries and municipalities that dump in our precious river,” Love said.
Love said that while attending public hearings with the Ogeechee Riverkeeper she felt that the state Environmental Protection Division wasn’t interested in solving the problem.
“Their response was, they are understaffed,” she said. “Unfortunately, they are not understaffed when it came to issuing permits to dump into the Ogeechee. Industries seem to find Georgia an easy place to come and dump.”
Love said after meeting with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, their response was that the EPD had followed protocol and “all of this time, the dumping continues without permits. “
“The only organization that I could see that cared, and would not stop until this dumping was stopped, modified and monitored was the Ogeechee Riverkeepers,” she said.
There’s also personal cost associated with the river’s pollution.
“My children and grandchildren have enjoyed this river all of their lives as well,” Love said. “It truly disheartens me when I have had to tell them that they can not get in the river or eat the fish.”
Love said the problem won’t go away until the public gets involved.
“(We need to wake) up our citizens to the fact that if not protected and monitored, this will someday reach our beaches and islands,” she said. “I seriously hope that Bryan County citizens will join in and help support the Ogeechee Riverkeepers, The Ogeechee Riverkeepers, our local DNR, and us as individuals, will be the only saving grace for the Ogeechee. Just becoming a member will help with increasing the loudness of their voices.”
Love’s Seafood will provide a low country boil buffet at the annual meeting and membership drive and there will be chicken as an alternate food option. In addition, local musicians Dr. Dan Matrazzo and The Looters, will be performing and there will be activities for kids.
“We are excited to have the annual meeting at our place on the banks of the Ogeechee River this year and hope everyone will come out to learn more about the Ogeechee Riverkeeper organization,” said Love. “Our goal is to continually raise awareness and amplify the voices of concerned citizens to protect the rivers in our communities.”
Event tickets are $20 for adults and $6 for kids under the age of 12.
Those interested can RSVP by going to http://ogeecheeriverkeeper.org/events/ and clicking on the event to be linked to the RSVP page.