The man given the responsibility to help assist local residents and organizations understand what’s going on with the Terry Creek outfall site accused the Environmental Protection Agency recently of trying to silence voices that don’t fall in line with the plans agreed to by EPA and Hercules to address the site.
While the outfall isn’t officially a Superfund site — listed on the National Priorities List — the process regarding the site is going through what’s called the Superfund Alternative Approach. That’s in which the federal government works with the responsible party, in this case, Hercules, to conduct remedial action.
The Glynn Environmental Coalition’s received technical assistance grants from the EPA for years to hire a technical advisor who can “interpret and explain technical reports, site conditions and EPA’s proposed cleanup proposals and decisions.”
Peter deFur, who has an extraordinary amount of experience in these matters, served as the technical advisor here in 2018 before his recent retirement. As part of the regular course of matters, the EPA would release TAG funds to fulfill the associated invoices, but the EPA Region IV office in Atlanta sent a letter in March telling GEC the organization was in noncompliance and would not receive the full amount of funds requested for work conducted July- September 2018.
In essence, the EPA accused GEC and deFur of trying to obtain funds under this program for actions “related to lawsuits or other legal actions and reopening or challenging final EPA decisions, such as records of decision.”
Specifically, the letter questions costs from “preparing and submitting comments challenging the EPA’s final action selecting an interim record of decision (IROD) for Operable Unit 1 (OU1) at the site in June 2017 and requesting the IROD be reopened in a legal action filed in the Southern District of Georgia by the United States Department of Justice on behalf of the EPA and Hercules LLC.”
In his letter to EPA Region IV Administrator Mary Walker on May 29, deFur said the EPA is flatly wrong on a number of its points. He said EPA hasn’t produced any evidence he used the words “reopen the IROD” to the courts or to the community.
“My comments repeat critiques of the EPA decision documents that I made at earlier stages in the process and do not, I repeat do not, in any place or forum call for re-opening the decision, as asserted by EPA,” deFur wrote. “My comments were criticisms of the weaknesses and errors in the EPA document, as permitted in regulations. The role of a technical advisor is to critique the technical documents.”
The EPA regional grants and audit management section chief stated in the agency’s letter that it would not cover 100 percent of deFur’s costs preparing and submitting comments to the proposed consent decree that’s lodged in federal court, 70 percent of costs associated with a community presentation in July 2018, 35 percent of the costs involved with the creation of a September 2018 technical report, and 35 percent of the costs involved with a July 2018 technical report.
All of these refusals were — in the most general fashion — according to the EPA because deFur challenged EPA statements. In his reply, deFur said that after working more than 20 years in eight different EPA regions while serving as a technical advisor, he’d never seen “such an egregious abuse of EPA oversight of TAG projects and activities. The role of the technical advisor is to support the community and not to rubber-stamp documents, positions or statements from EPA or contractors.
“This EPA action seems to be intended to have a chilling effect on community involvement and public participation, and as such is contrary to the intent of Congress in including the TAG program in the Superfund law. EPA’s action amount to ‘strong-arm’ tactics to quash or quell public comments on EPA work at Superfund sites.”
Rachael Thompson, executive director of the GEC, said Wednesday the organization responded to the EPA letter and worked with the agency to make certain most expenses incurred during the third quarter of 2018 were covered by TAG funds. GEC itself paid deFur for other costs considered non-reimbursable.
“The GEC is not aware of any other instances where the EPA has denied reimbursement because of the real or perceived challenges to EPA decisions,” Thompson said.
An alligator has a jaw pressure of about 1,500 pounds per square inch.
Yet, when a baby alligator needs to hatch out of an egg, its mother gator will take the egg in her mouth and apply just enough pressure to delicately crack the shell and release her hatchling.
Alligators are powerful predators that haven’t changed much in their 37 million years on earth. And yet, small interactions with humans can be disastrous for an alligator and quickly ruin their honed survival instincts.
Many unexpected contradictions and fascinating facts about alligators are shared during weekly Gatorology 101 classes offered by Jekyll Island’s conservation team.
The class, which will take place throughout the summer, offers a hands-on learning experience that covers the American alligator’s biology and behavior.
The classes aim to educate the public on how to respect alligators, said Ray Emerson, lead park ranger on Jekyll Island.
“There are a lot of people that think the wrong things about them, whether it be to be terrified of them or whether it be not to be respectful of them,” he said.
Emerson began a class Wednesday for a family group from Jacksonville by asking the children in attendance what first came to their minds at the word “alligator.”
“Sharp teeth,” “big mouth,” and “chomp chomp” were among their answers.
The biggest takeaway of the Gatorology class, Emerson said, boiled down to: “Don’t try to approach (the alligators) … Don’t try to get near them. Don’t try to touch them. Don’t try to feed them.”
The class is held on a dock overlooking Horton Pond, which is a bustling natural habitat on Jekyll Island.
“We have all kinds of cool things that live here,” Emerson said. “Now, on a hot day like today, you’re not going to see a bunch of them, because things are in the shade like we are, trying to stay cool.”
On less suffocatingly hot days, though, turtles can be seen swimming below the waters surface alongside many types of fish. Insects buzz on top of the water and around the many plants surrounding the pond.
About 10 alligators live at the pond as well.
“We have an alpha male and an alpha female,” Emerson said. “So they are kind of like boyfriend and girlfriend, and they run the show on the pond as far as the alligators go. They are the ones that mate and have babies every once in a while.”
Alligators moved onto Jekyll well before humans arrived, said Collin Richter, an AmeriCorps member for the conservation team.
“Alligators have been on Jekyll as long as Jekyll has been an island, so that’s about 5,000 years,” Richter said.
Richter shared how the gators on Jekyll have been researched and tracked. The male alligators move frequently around the island, seeking food, claiming territory and meeting up with their mates. One gator, Striker, crosses the roundabout by the Beach Village shopping area about twice a day.
“He has a girlfriend behind Flash Foods and Dairy Queen, and then he has a girlfriend in a wetland across the street from Flash Foods and Dairy Queen,” Emerson said. “And then another one down here at the south end.”
“Too many girlfriends,” a child in the class pointed out.
Gator breeding and nesting were discussed at length during the class. Gators at this time of year have finished mating, and the female gators have begun to find nesting areas to lay their eggs inside.
“What they do is they crawl up on the shore … and they make a big mound of vegetation and leaf litter and stuff, and they lay their eggs inside that big pile,” Richter said.
The eggs incubate in the hot pile of vegetation, staying warm under rotting leaves.
Gator moms will fiercely protect the eggs from potential dangers, like raccoons. Turtles will sneak in and lay their own eggs in the gator nest, to benefit from the gator’s protective instincts.
Hatchlings will live with their mom up to about three years. Emerson and Richter brought a 2-year-old hatchling named Timmy for the class attendees to see up close and pet.
Timmy, born at the alligator farm in St. Augustine, Fla., serves as an “educational representative” that helps conservation team members spread the word on the importance of respecting gators.
“They don’t typically see people, so they don’t expect food from them unless people go places and start feeding them,” Emerson said. “So they start to become this big word called ‘habitualized.’”
Habitualized gators lose their natural fear of people, Emerson said. The gators begin to expect food when they see humans and may become aggressive if no food is provided.
“Habitualization is a big deal,” Emerson said. “We educate a lot on, ‘Don’t approach, don’t touch, don’t feed.’ And we have signs all over the place here, but people still do it.”
Gatorology classes are offered on Wednesdays and Fridays at 11 a.m. Those interested in taking the 45-minute class can sign up online at shopjekyllisland.myshopify.com/products/summer- gatorology-101.
While the people are top priority for the governor and the first lady of Georgia, there’s a special place in their heart for the state’s furry, four-legged inhabitants.
After speaking at the Georgia Press Association convention on Jekyll Island Thursday evening, Gov. Brian Kemp and his wife Marty popped over to Brunswick for a quick visit to the Glynn County Animal Control (GCAC) on Friday morning.
While there, the two spent about an hour touring the facility and checking out the many dogs and cats housed at the shelter. Perhaps excited by the enthusiastic visitors, the dogs were barking so loudly that conversation could barely be heard.
Pet adoption is an especially important issue for Marty Kemp, who hosted a public adoption event on the lawn of the Governor’s Mansion in March.
“It’s been a great visit to the shelter here today,” Marty Kemp told The News. “We loved seeing all the dogs and cats in need of a forever home, and I hope that everyone will come and adopt a forever friend.”
During the visit, the governor, first lady and their entourage were brought into a penned-off room and introduced to two dogs that are currently up for adoption.
Both dogs interacted playfully with everyone in the room.
The first lady also graciously accepted a gift from the GCAC staff: a canvas with paint paw marks made by the dogs at the shelter.
The Kemps are no strangers to pet life. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the family has a host of different animals, including sheep and horses, at their property in Athens. In Atlanta, a golden retriever named Bailey and a German shepherd named Rhett roam the halls of the Governor’s Mansion.
On their website, GCAC describes itself as an “open admission” shelter, which means that they are required to take in all stray cats and dogs that they receive or encounter, provided that they have space available and that animals offered by people have the proper immunizations.
Cats and dogs are spayed and neutered before they are put up for adoption, and those interested in adoption need only fill out an application and pay a $50 fee.
In case you have not been paying attention, it starts today.
The 2019 hurricane season is under way, meaning conditions are right for an unwelcome visit from the likes of Andrea, Barry or Chantal. What Alex Eaton wants to know is, are you ready?
Being ready means having a hurricane emergency kit in place now, not when The Weather Channel and other media sites begin airing dire warnings about the pending approach of one of these named storms the long storm season ahead.
“We like to say, be proactive,” said Eaton, EMA Specialist for the Glynn County Emergency Management Agency. “We want people to know that they should already be prepared for hurricane season.”
Eaton strongly encourages residents to have a hurricane kit ready — bottled water, nonperishable foods, flashlights, battery-operated UHF-band radios, spare batteries, medications, pet supplies and more. It also means having an evacuation plan in place, complete with details settled on transportation and destination.
Glynn County was spared the wrath of the 2018 hurricane season, during which Hurricane Michael pummeled the Florida panhandle in October and Hurricane Florence brought massive flooding to North Carolina in September. However, Hurricane Irma in 2017 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016 prompted Glynn County officials to order mandatory evacuations as both storms brought heavy wind damage, flooding and extended widespread power outages to the area.
County EMA officials have learned from the lessons of Irma and Matthew that residents’ hurricane kits should be sufficient enough to last at least a full week. For information on the essentials of hurricane season preparations, visit glynncounty.org/ema, http://ready.ga.gov, or www.redcross.org.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting 15 named storms in 2019, of which between four and eight could become hurricanes. Between two and four of those could become major hurricanes, with wind speeds of 111 mph or higher, NOAA predicts. The 2019 season continues through Nov. 31.
The time to prepare is now, Eaton said.
“Plan on a sunny day for what the rainy days will bring,” he said.