Ogeechee Riverkeeper to Sue Army Corps of Engineers Over Hyundai Megasite

Ogeechee Riverkeeper (ORK), dedicated to the protection and preservation of the water resources of the Ogeechee Basin, filed a letter of intent to sue the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and others for not completing required steps and overlooking  water supply concerns during the permitting process of the Hyundai Megasite.

Previously called the Bryan County Megasite, the 2541-acre site is located near Ellabell in Bryan County, Georgia. The site sits on the edge of Black Creek, which flows directly into the Ogeechee River. Prior to its development, the area was home to a variety of aquatic and terrestrial habitats including ~625 acres of forested and scrub-shrub wetland, as well as streams.

The Clean Water Act requires USACE to collect pertinent information and analyze permit requests that impact or disturb “Waters of the U.S.”, which includes wetlands. ORK investigated official documents and found that despite major updates and changes to Megasite permit requests between 2019 and 2022, USACE did not reconsider these additional substantial impacts.

USACE is also responsible for considering the impacts of aquifer water withdrawals resulting from the applied-for action. Documents show that the agency accepted vague or nonexistent information regarding expected water usage, rather than insisting on specifics or conducting its own analysis. The application stated that the amount of water needed was “unknown,” yet USACE determined, “it would be reasonable to assume that the Bryan County supply is adequate” and “ would not require water withdrawals or a permit from Georgia EPD.” 

“We found that the steps taken did not fully assess the available information, or did not consider it at all,” Ben Kirsch, ORK’s legal director said. “There was an assumption that existing water utilities could meet the demand, but it’s the job of USACE to challenge that assumption and require more of the applicant.”

Furthermore, ORK contends that the Megasite project piecemeal review prevented the full scope of impacts from being considered by agencies or the public. The resulting approach failed the basic purpose of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and calls the entire process and approval into question.

“One of ORK’s directives is to be a watchdog for water resources and make sure permitting processes are done correctly, ” Damon Mullis, riverkeeper and executive director said. “When we find out that permit applicants withhold important information in an application and the permitting agency hasn’t done their due diligence, we will call them out and use the law to hold them accountable.”  

ORK also names the Department of the Treasury in the letter, as it disbursed millions of dollars in infrastructure funding without adhering to the NEPA requirements. 

Ogeechee Riverkeeper seeks the immediate halt in construction or development activity connected to the improperly issued permit until resolved. ORK also insists federal funding be frozen until the required environmental analyses are completed. Finally, ORK seeks the restoration of any and all environmental damage resulting from the improper approvals.

A copy of the letter of intent to sue and other related documents are available at ogeecheeriverkeeper.org/megasite.

About Ogeechee RiverkeeperOgeechee Riverkeeper 501(c)(3) works to protect, preserve, and improve the water quality of the Ogeechee River basin, which includes all of the streams flowing out to Ossabaw Sound and St. Catherine’s Sound. The Canoochee River is about 108 miles long and the Ogeechee River itself is approximately 245 miles long. The Ogeechee River system drains more than 5,500 square miles across 21 counties in Georgia. More at ogeecheeriverkeeper.org.

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