I have been researching the Rayonier discharge issue since my return from Paddle Georgia. Deborah Sheppard of the Altamaha Riverkeeper and Chris Manganiello at The Georgia River Network have been awesome in answering my numerous questions. I now have a copy of the discharge permit issued to Rayonier back in 2001 to peruse. The issue is complex in my view. One option to eliminate the discharge into the Altamaha River would be to close the plant. The discharge would stop immediately and presumably the ecosystem would start to heal downriver. Of course approximately 800 people would be out of a job and the City of Jesup would lose it’s largest employer. The ripple through the local economy would no doubt be harsh and Jesup would suffer beyond already tough economic conditions. I don’t consider this an option even for a moment, people were great to us in Wayne County, they deserve the opportunity to prosper and I don’t think anyone on either side of the argument wants this to happen or really sees it as a viable solution. In one way this creates common ground for opposing points of view.
The reality in our country is that many companies have decided to move production offshore. Rayonier has been in Jesup since 1954 and I am sure that the availability of their primary raw material (wood) from local land holdings is one big reason. From an environmental perspective moving the factory to another country may conveniently solve the issue locally but from what I have read the environmental issues don’t go away they just impact someone else. I have ordered a copy of “The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China’s Future” to further explore the impact of economic growth with little or no consideration of the long term environmental impact. It comes as no surprise that a great percentage of the goods we purchase are now made in China. The goods we use everyday have to be made somewhere and we know that rarely is that somewhere within the confines of the United States of America. Even the ball caps we proudly wear announcing our participation in Paddle Georgia are made somewhere else (Vietnam this year, Banlgladesh in 2011). China’s economic growth has come at a great environmental cost. I bring this up here because I heard several people talking about boycotting products produced by the Rayonier plant. Looking at what the plant produces this would probably be very difficult to nail down since it does not appear that the material produced is what goes directly to the consumer. You can go here to get more info from the Rayonier website specific to the Jesup mill.
It also is not the answer in my opinion because if the Rayonier facility did not exist in Jesup Georgia or somewhere else in the US it would exist in some other country with environmental laws inferior to our own. The river discharge problem would still impact someone.
This is why we must “think globally and act locally” as we struggle to balance economic stability with care and respect for the environment. Rayonier’s discharge is a problem, a big problem but my other experience with the Altamaha was a river that was pristine and remarkably free of the trash we are so used to seeing on many other rivers in Georgia. My journey to understand continues.