King America Finishing, the company at the heart of a massive fish kill in 2011, has been sold to Spartanburg, S.C.-based Milliken & Co. Milliken announced Friday it had acquired King America’s parent company, Westex Inc. The news was made public after hourly meetings Friday with the Screven County facility’s 500 employees. The textile processing facility will continue to be subject to the permits and consent agreement already in place with King America Finishing.
“This does not change anything as far as our obligation to the EPD and the riverkeeper,” said Milliken spokesman Richard Dillard. “The state’s environmental protection agency issued a new permit, and we’re confident in our ability to comply with it. From that standpoint nothing changes. We look forward to working with EPD and the riverkeeper.”
EPD spokesman Kevin Chambers said the state was informed of the sale Friday and while officials were still reviewing the details, they expected the new owners would be required to take on the responsibilities under the existing environmental permits and consent agreement. Similarly, the change in ownership “will not affect the few cases that are still pending in Bulloch County courts,” said King America attorney Christy Hull Eikhoff, of Alston and Bird.
Three years ago this month, the Ogeechee was the site of a fish kill that left 38,000 fish dead; all were discovered below King America Finishing’s discharge pipe in Screven County. State regulators, while blaming the fish kill on a bacterial infection, also determined the company had been illegally discharging waste from its fire retardant processing operation for five years. The Ogeechee Riverkeeper sued under the federal Clean Water Act, litigation that resulted in a settlement that tightened the pollution permit, required greater public access to discharge data and ordered a $2.5 million payment from King America to the riverkeeper to fund its continuing efforts to protect the black water river.
Ogeechee Riverkeeper Attorney Don Stack on Friday said he welcomed the new ownership. “Milliken has a long history of being a responsible employer in Georgia,” Stack said. “We look forward to efforts to improve and enhance the Ogeechee.” The new company has already begun discussion with the riverkeeper. “Milliken reached out to us to meet with environmental compliance folks very soon, in the next two weeks, to discuss any concerns we might have with the transition,” Stack said.
Dillard declined to reveal the purchase price. Privately held Milliken operates 39 manufacturing facilities in the U.S., U.K., Belgium, France and China. The company has other sales and service operations throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia with nearly 7,000 employees, according to its website. Along with specialty fabrics, its products include floor coverings, composites materials used in wind mill blades and conduit for fiber optic cables. Milliken plans to continue manufacturing flame retardant fabric at the Screven County facility using the same processes, Dillard said.
“Our goal is to grow the business, not make cuts,” Dillard said. “Our combined techniques and products and broad market access strengthen our ability to deliver superior fire retardant products.”
The 150-year-old company boasts an environmental record that includes an aggressive recycling policy that has resulted in less than 1 percent of its solid waste being land filled, Dillard said. It harvests green energy in the form of methane from landfills in LaGrange and Spartanburg.