ALBANY – Two massive sewage spills that dumped more than 90,000 gallons of raw, untreated waste into the Flint River just south of the Oglethorpe Boulevard bridge on May 20 and 21 not only fouled the city’s founding waterway, it also decimated profits for a business that operates on the river downstream from the spill.
According to Jeannie Yarger, owner and operator of Flint River Outpost, a kayaking and canoe rental business that operates solely on the Flint River between downtown Albany and Newton, she had to cancel all trips booked directly after the spills and is only now resuming normal operations.
“The smell was awful,” Yarger said. “We noticed it behind the civic center a few days before the city reported it, but we had been hearing about it, so I went down to check it out that Tuesday after it happened. The minute we got to the shoals on the left we noticed the smell. It was overpowering. It was unbelievable.”
Yarger said some customers had taken pictures of various solid waste items in the river such as paper, tampons and even a condom dangling from a half-submerged limb.
“It was really disgusting,” Yarger said. “I, personally, didn’t see any waste-related trash, but the river was coming up and we kind of watched the trail of trash wash down the river, but it was stuff like Styrofoam cups and plastic bottles. The smell, though, was horrible. Once we smelled it, we didn’t go any further because I had other people with me. If I had been by myself, I probably would have, just to see, but I didn’t want to risk anyone getting in it.”
According to Yarger, Flint River Outpost was forced to cease booking any and all trips on the river.
“During Memorial Day weekend, right after the spill was reported, we had a ton of calls canceling trips due to that,” she explained. “We still have not been able to, in good conscience, take groups down the river. We had to turn down at least five groups last Saturday.
“I mean, we were still getting calls from people who want to take trips, but we had to turn them down. This really sucks, because I don’t run on the Kinchafoonee. I only operate on the Flint, and I haven’t been able to put customers in the water. I have been avoiding dam trips, because I don’t want anyone to get in the river and come by that and have to see it and smell it, like we did. So until we know that it is fixed we are focusing on our four-hour trip, which is a lot farther south.”
Other kayak companies in the area, such as Kayak Attack, owned and operated by Josh Lorber, were also affected, although not as devastatingly as the Flint River Outpost.
“Well, we operate on both the Flint and the Kinchafoonee,” Lorber said. “After the sewage spill, we had to re-route all of our business to the creek. We had people that wanted to go down the Flint, but we would have to convince them not to. I checked, and last season we did about 30 percent of our rentals on the Flint. This season, particularly because of the spill, we have only had about 5 percent of our business on the Flint.
“I wouldn’t say that we have really lost any revenue, we just had to re-route our trips.”
As of last Friday, repairs were still underway at pump station LS-26, where the spill originated, according to Albany Sewer System Superintendent Jeff Hughes.
“We have brought in the diesel pumps to move the sewage in that part of the system around the failed pump and get it out to the treatment plant,” Hughes said. “We hope to have repairs completed soon, but these things take time.”
With repairs dragging out for almost three weeks now, it was the rain, not the city, according to Yarger, that has been the saving grace for both the Outpost and the Flint River.
“With all the rain, the river really came up and, hopefully, has washed all that stuff away,” she said. “Not really knowing what is going on with the city, if they have repaired it or what, we are just trying to stay positive about it and hope if we push them hard enough they will do something about it.”