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Flat Creek is filled with soybeans. Now the fish are dying.
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Chattahoochee Riverkeeper headwaters watershed specialist Becca Risser stands in several feet of soybeans Friday, Aug. 12, 2022, that were spilled into Flat Creek. - photo by Scott Rogers

Clad in waders, Becca Risser slowly stepped down Friday, Aug. 12, into the waist-deep water of Flat Creek in the Georgia Avenue area of Gainesville.

“I think this is soybeans all the way down,” Risser said.

Risser, the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper headwaters watershed specialist, would wave her hands back and forth in the water and come up with handfuls of soybeans.

Risser and others are concerned about a partial “fish kill” in Flat Creek, where some of the fish population is dying off. Risser estimated at least 40 fish have died, including mosquitofish and bluegill. 

The Chattahoochee Riverkeeper said they believe the soybeans entering Flat Creek is related to the derailment of three rail cars July 29. The cars, including at least one carrying soybeans, derailed from a Norfolk Southern train servicing the Cargill plant.

Risser said she has not seen any other possible source other than the derailment that would explain the amount of soybeans in Flat Creek.

When asked if he believed the beans came from the derailment, Gainesville’s Environmental Monitoring Coordinator Brian Wiley said, "I would say that's the only difference in the watershed is from the derailment that occurred."

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Chattahoochee Riverkeeper headwaters watershed specialist Becca Risser enters the water in Flat Creek Friday, Aug. 12, 2022, near Georgia Avenue amongst several feet of soybeans. - photo by Scott Rogers

Norfolk Southern sent a statement to The Times:

“Norfolk Southern and its contractors worked quickly to clean-up the spilled product following last month's derailment, and determined that the spill was contained to Norfolk Southern property.”

The Times also reached out to a Cargill spokesperson Friday, but that request was not returned.

Risser said the soybeans breaking down in the water causes them to draw down the dissolved oxygen in the water.

“Some of our big rains have washed a lot of the soybeans downstream through Flat Creek, so they’ve been piling up,” Risser said.

On Friday, thousands of beans could be seen in Flat Creek, with some mounds sticking up through the water.

Risser said 5 milligrams per liter of dissolved oxygen is the lowest level it should be.

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Chattahoochee Riverkeeper headwaters watershed specialist Becca Risser finds dead fish while testing the water in Flat Creek Friday, Aug. 12, 2022, near Georgia Avenue. A train derailment spilled soybean into the creek. - photo by Scott Rogers

“Anything less than 3 milligrams per liter is very stressful to (the fish),” Risser said.

Risser said she got readings below 1 milligram per liter, which is the range in which fish begin to die. Some of the worst spots, including the Georgia Avenue area of Flat Creek, were around 0.2 milligrams per liter.

Risser said representatives from an environmental cleanup crew were out at the scene as well as other regulatory agencies.

“I think the fish kill has not been worse so far because we’ve had so many heavy rains in this area to keep flushing the system … but until they get the soybeans back out of the creek, they’re going to continue to break down and continue to draw the oxygen down,” Risser said.

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Chattahoochee Riverkeeper headwaters watershed specialist Becca Risser tests the water in Flat Creek Friday, Aug. 12, 2022, near Georgia Avenue after a soybean spill into the creek. - photo by Scott Rogers

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Environmental Protection Division told The Times it was aware of the incident and actively investigating alongside DNR’s wildlife resources division.

EPD’s Director of Communications Sara Lips said the agency did not have a spill report or fish kill report to discuss details.

When asked if they believed the soybeans were related to the train derailment, Lips said, “Everything is still under investigation by our staff, so I have no definite information to provide.”

“Staff has been onsite yesterday and today, so I presume we will have an initial report by early next week,” Lips said.


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Chattahoochee Riverkeeper headwaters watershed specialist Becca Risser tests the water in Flat Creek Friday, Aug. 12, 2022, near Georgia Avenue after a soybean spill into the creek. - photo by Scott Rogers