The Crosby Star tows the last section of the Golden Ray past the VB 10,000 and heads toward Brunswick and the East River.

The Golden Isles were prominently featured Tuesday in the Georgia Water Coalition’s release of the 2021 Dirty Dozen Report, which highlights some of the worst offenses against the state’s waters.

The report is intended to bring attention to issues that threaten the health of Georgia’s waters and to serve as a call to action for the state’s leaders and citizens to solve major pollution problems.

Five of the 12 issues included in the latest list made return appearances this year.

“Underlying each issue is an intersection between quality of life and quest for profit,” according to the report. “Whether it’s an upstream development filling a neighborhood amenity lake with muddy sediment or a mining company threatening one of Georgia’s natural wonders, in each is the struggle to find a balance between protecting our natural resources and accommodating the demands of a growing population and sustainable economy.”

Environmental impacts created by the Golden Ray shipwreck in St. Simons Sound were included again in this year’s list.

Coastal advocates are calling on state officials to request a Natural Resources Damage Assessment by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The process would involve a thorough evaluation of the damage done to the sound and surrounding areas and hold responsible parties accountable.

The Hercules 009 Landfill Superfund site in Brunswick also made a return to the list.

The landfill, operated by Hercules since the 1990s, sits adjacent to Golden Isles Parkway and has leached benzene and other toxic chemicals into the groundwater. Recent testing suggests that the contaminants are migrating in groundwater to adjacent properties, according to the Dirty Dozen report.

“And these tests show benzene levels 70 times — 70 times — the maximum level goal set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for this clean up,” said Jennette Gayer, director of Environment Georgia, during a press conference Tuesday.

An ongoing fight over a proposed heavy mineral sands mine near the Okefenokee Swamp is included again in the list.

More than 40,000 emails have been sent to EPD and more than 10,000 emails and phone calls have been received by Gov. Brian Kemp’s office urging the state to stop the mine, according to the report.

“Its future rests with EPD, which will soon decide whether to issue permits for this controversial proposal that has drawn international attention,” according to the Dirty Dozen report.

Included for the first time this year in the report is the broader issue of the effects of climate change in the state. The report criticizes Georgia’s elected leaders for being mostly silent and inactive on the issue.

At the top of the list is coal ash pollution created by Georgia Power’s operations.

“While other states have forced power utilities to remove toxic coal ash from unlined pits at coal burning power plants, Georgia’s leaders through the state Environmental Protection Division are poised to allow the company to keep its ash in unlined pits where it is making groundwater unfit for human consumption,” said Joe Cook, one of the authors of the report.

The report includes with each listing contacts who can assist concerned citizens or leaders looking for ways to make a difference.

“What an individual citizen can do after reading the report is add their weight to the issue that they care about by joining arms with the nominator, and that could be letter writing, email writing, showing up at the legislature, if they’re an adjacent property owner joining into comments, etc.,” said Gordon Rogers, Flint Riverkeeper. “It’s very much tailored to the individual issue.”

The Georgia Water Coalition is a consortium of more than 285 conservation and environmental organizations, hunting and fishing groups, businesses and faith-based organizations.

To view the full Dirty Dozen Report, visit www.gawater.org/.

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