Reckless coastal development is heading to Georgia, courtesy of the Nathan Deal administration. Naturally this marsh killing policy was announced on Earth Day.
If you’ve never been to Georgia, you’re missing out. Georgia’s 300,000 acres of tidal marshes are a source of huge pride in the Peach state, for good reason. Not only are fishing and shrimping a large source of recreational, family-owned businesses, but the state has always taken a much more protective stance towards its coasts and marshlands. The birds and the stunning scenery are a testament to past policies of preservation.
But it’s not just Georgians who benefit from the preserved and protected coast. The Center for a Sustainable Coast estimates that “Georgia’s tidal marshes are about a third of those remaining on the U.S. east coast…” You won’t see the kind of built up, destroyed coasts in Georgia that you will see in South Carolina.
Or rather, you wouldn’t see that in the past, but the Nathan Deal (R-GA) administration is doing what Republican governors do best (see Rick Scott’s similar actions in Florida, and Rick Snyder’s giveaway of public parks to corporations in Michigan) — selling out public land, interest and national treasures to big business.
The Center for a Sustainable Coast explained in a statement, “On Earth Day, Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division Director Judson Turner announced a radical policy change that will eliminate protective buffers along Georgia’s tidal marshes. This came as a result of a dubious reinterpretation of language in the 1978 Georgia Soil Erosion and Sedimentation (E&S) Act, used to protect waters of the state.”
In case anyone is paying attention, it is exactly this executive branch privilege to interpret policy that Republicans claim makes President Obama a dictator worse than Hitler when he does it.
Turner served former Governor Sonny Perdue, and was appointed to his current position by the Board of Natural Resources with the approval of current Governor Nathan Deal in 2012.
Bill Sapp, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, told Savannah Now, “In addition to protecting the environment (the buffer is) really good planning for development. Gov. (Nathan) Deal has a choice on the coast to allow for responsible development or reckless development. After seeing the decision today, it seems he’s choosing the latter.”
Sherpa Guides The Natural Georgia series lays out how the existing barrier islands are approximately 2/3 native wilderness and how they protect the mainland from storms and winds (like hurricanes):
Unlike many of America’s shorelines, whose beaches and barrier islands are being lost to development, many of Georgia’s islands still retain much of their native wilderness. Approximately two-thirds of the islands are state and national parks, wildlife refuges, research reserves, and heritage preserves. The name “barrier” has been given to these islands because they protect the mainland from storm waves and the strongest winds. Clay and sand sediments carried in the incoming tides and rivers settle behind the barrier islands to form the marshes.
… This position of the barrier islands relative to the South Atlantic Bight affects Georgia’s tides, waves, and incidences with hurricanes.
The protection of Georgia’s coasts was an area where the idea of “conservatism” made sense. It’s ironic that it’s liberals who fight to protect nature in the rest of the country, but in the South, that’s not how it shakes down. Georgia’s coasts are a source of pride of place, their beauty says “home” to residents, and they attract tourists and protect the state. Many traditionalists understand the value of keeping areas free from development, of keeping the marshes the way they were, and preserving the natural beauty. This is something Georgia got right.
Until now. The Center for a Sustainable Coast broke down what’s at risk in a list titled “Lost protection of marsh buffers in Georgia threatens disastrous consequences of public concern:”
• Areas that were protected along the marsh edge will be built in, exposing new homes and others structures to storm damage and flooding.
• Cost of flood insurance and disaster recovery will rise accordingly.
• More pollution will enter tidal marshes because critically important filtration benefits of vegetated buffers will be lost.
• Georgia’s $500 million annual recreational fishing business will suffer, as tidal spawning areas will be damaged and polluted.
• Seawalls will be built along marsh edges in futile attempts to protect development in areas previous serving as buffers – causing more damage to marshes due to erosion at the base of those seawalls.
Should the public become widely aware of the Deal administration’s corporate giveaway of the coasts, it could become a toxic issue in the upcoming election, in which the grandson of former president Jimmy Carter, Democrat Jason Carter, was leading Republican Nathan Deal in March.
Nathan Deal got elected even with a past clouded with suspicion of corruption as a member of Congress, so the public should have known what to expect with him. But since they missed it, the fact that the FBI is currently investigating an ethics scandal close to the governor might serve as a refresher.
As invulnerable as Republicans seem to think they are in red states, this attack on the shining pride of Georgians was probably not the best move for Gov. Nathan Deal. The coasts of Georgia are truly a bipartisan issue.
Image: Richard T. Bryant