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More dead fish as cleanup of soybeans from Flat Creek continues
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A HEPCO Inc. employee vacuums water and soybeans from Flat Creek Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, where a large amount was spilled into the Gainesville creek. - photo by Scott Rogers

The efforts to clean up soybeans in Flat Creek are ongoing, but representatives from the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper said they believe it will be weeks before the oxygen levels in the water return to normal.

“Of course, it’s going to take much longer for fish life to return to what it was,” said Chattahoochee Riverkeeper headwaters watershed specialist Becca Risser.

The Chattahoochee Riverkeeper and other environmental groups have been monitoring the situation in Flat Creek after the appearance of soybeans in the water last week. 

Risser said there were at least 40 dead fish last week and saw more dead fish this week.

“Most of the fish that you’re seeing out there are mosquitofish, which are really remarkably tolerant of low dissolved oxygen,” Risser said. “But when they swim really near the surface and sort of gulp at the surface, that is a sort of a distressed behavior. … The water right at the surface tends to have a little more oxygen that’s diffused into it from the air, so they start accumulating there.”

On Wednesday, a section of Flat Creek on Georgia Avenue had a lower water level, but the mounds of soybeans seen last week were gone.

Representatives from the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper said they believe the soybeans may be related to a July 29 Norfolk Southern train car derailment. Three rail cars, including at least one carrying soybeans, derailed from a train servicing the Cargill plant, but the railroad company said the spill was contained to its property.

The Department of Natural Resources’ Environmental Protection Division, which is tasked with investigating the spill and the fish deaths, has still not released any reports.
A spokesman for Norfolk Southern confirmed that the company had contractors facilitating the ongoing cleanup at Flat Creek.

Risser said the cleanup method involves a pump sucking out the soybeans and water, running that through a filter and returning the water into the creek.

Risser said she is still getting readings for dissolved oxygen in the water below the 5 milligrams per liter standard. In the worst spots, the readings are still below 1 milligram per liter.