Fish kill: Pearl rebounding one year after fish kill

Published 8:12 am Wednesday, August 22, 2012

At this time last year, hundreds of thousands of dead and decomposing fish and fresh water mussels were being scooped out of the Pearl River from Bogalusa southward through St. Tammany Parish. Local residents were still reeling at the magnitude and extent of the damage caused when black liquor from what was then Temple-Inland circumvented the company’s treatment process, got into the river and choked the oxygen out of the water and the life out of its inhabitants that could not escape.

T-I admitted culpability, although the company did not report the incident, as is required, until after a member of the media had already alerted the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality with inquiries.

Since last August, when the water around Pool’s Bluff was eerily still and the air was pungent with the stench of rotting flesh, International Paper Company acquired T-I, and took on the still unresolved penalties and the responsibility for making all of the required changes to the Bogalusa plant.

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has repeatedly re-stocked the river with different species of fingerlings. The reviews from local fishermen are varied.

A LWLF spokesperson said she could not now comment on the case due to unresolved litigation.

Meanwhile, the LDEQ has monitored the affected stretch of river since last September.

“We are not aware of any issues at this point,” spokeswoman Jean Kelly said last week. “All evidence supports that the system seems to have returned to normal conditions. I’m sure if anything was awry on the river we’d know about it.”

She added that the report from the data collected earlier this month when red dye was injected into a slug of effluent from the offender treatment plant should be “ready in December.”

But IP has been working hard on its own and in cooperation with the LDEQ to improve conditions and to ensure that an event like that of last summer will never happen again, said Bogalusa Mill Manager Todd Crutcher.

“Since arriving in Bogalusa, International Paper has conducted a thorough examination of the mill’s safety, environmental, quality and process systems,” he said. “We brought in a top environmental scientist to lead the renovation of the Aerated Stabilization Basin wastewater system; an operations manager to focus on the complexities of running a mill of this size; a pulp and power manager to coordinate these two critical departments – and you can expect to see considerable process improvements in those areas.

“The mill has a clear focus on Manufacturing Excellence principles and on improved internal and external communication efforts. The new wood yard project that is nearly complete significantly improves our ability to compete when it comes to total fiber cost.

“Our aim is to improve all of our mill processes to an increased level of precision and reliability. The best days are yet to come.”

IP is currently awaiting state approval of its new wastewater treatment system, which will be revealed to the public upon that approval.