Severn fish die; cause unknown

Published 2:21 pm Saturday, September 26, 2009

SEVERN — What caused a fish kill here is under investigation by state environmental agencies.

On Friday morning, a handful of deceased fish could be seen floating in the canal that flows through Severn and empties into the Meherrin River. The sight of the dead fish is causing concern among citizens.

A resident of South Street told the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald the town had removed several dead fish from the canal on Monday. That was confirmed by an employee at the Town Hall who said a 30-gallon trash bin had been used to collect the carcasses, though the employee did not know how many fish had been removed.

While dead fish are being discovered in the canal in Severn, the only fish kill event that has been reported was two weeks ago in the Meherrin River.

According to Northampton County Emergency Management Coordinator Tim Byers, on September 11 a fish kill was reported in the river by a representative with Support Crane, a company that was in charge of the containment of the recent warehouse fire at Severn Peanut Company, which burned for weeks. Byers said the location of where the fish were found was near a pump operation where water was being taken out of the river to help contain the fire.

“When I went down there I saw four or five (dead fish),” he said.

Byers said he notified Northampton County NC Wildlife Officer Dustin Durham about the incident, who in turn informed his environmental resources in the state, including the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) who are investigating the matter.

Byers added he had not received any official report from DENR yet.

“We don’t know if it is from the run off from the fire incident, from lack of oxygen (in the water), chemicals from farmland,” he said. “Right now it’s all speculation and under investigation.”

When asked about the fish in the canal, Byers said he was only aware of a fish kill in the river.

Wildlife Officer Durham spoke to the News-Herald briefly and said he saw only four to five fish in the river as well. Durham was also not aware of the dead fish found in the canal.

According to Byers, a 150 foot by 100 foot makeshift lagoon was created near the site of the Severn Peanut Company to help contain the water and peanut oil that was draining away from the dome.

The eight foot deep lagoon helped in recycling the water used on the fire as well as extinguished the burning peanuts as they were removed from the now destroyed dome-shaped warehouse.

Byers said the fire is completely extinguished and the clean up process has begun. Once the fire was stabilized, the peanuts were removed from the dome; those that were still burning were placed in the lagoon to put out the smoldering hulls.

Byers said the peanuts have been disposed of either in landfills or used as organic fertilizer on local farms. The water and oil in the lagoon will be disposed of in local waste water treatment plants.

Byers said there were no hazardous materials on the peanuts nor in the warehouse and Severn Peanut Company has worked closely with local and state authorities and agencies to make sure the fire incident was handled properly and within the set guidelines.

“From my experience, they are doing everything they can (to resolve the fire and cleanup),” he said.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.