Georgia Coastal Initiative

Saving Georgia's coast: As part of its conservation initiative, SELC has joined forces with other groups to provide a powerful counterweight to the destructive pressures bearing down on the region.


Photo © Robert Llewellyn

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EPA memo: Altamaha River impaired due to ongoing pulp plant pollution More »

A new memo from the Environmental Protection Agency finds that the Altamaha River is currently impaired for both color and odor from polluted discharge downstream of the Rayonier Advanced Materials pulp plant in Jesup, Georgia.

This week, SELC and partners sent a letter on behalf of Altamaha Riverkeeper citing the EPA memo and calling for the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to withdraw the current pollution discharge permit and issue a new one that adequately protects water quality.

Representing Altamaha Riverkeeper, SELC, GreenLaw, and Stack & Associates are in the appeal process of challenging the pollution discharge permit granted to Rayonier in December 2015.

EPA’s memo addresses the condition of the river, reporting that numerous fishermen find the downstream fish inedible, and emphasizes that the long-standing problem of odor from the Rayonier AM discharge continues to such an extent that it causes federal employees to reek of the plant’s smell when they come back from site visits.

EPA’s conclusion echoes an Administrative Law Judge’s ruling in October 2016 that the permit issued by EPD violates Georgia water quality standards, and that EPD must impose more stringent regulations to restrict color and odor in the polluted discharge.

The administrative court’s decision followed a two week trial in June 2016 that included testimony from over a dozen witnesses about the extent to which the 50 to 60 million gallons of effluent discharged into the river daily affects citizens’ ability to use the river for fishing, swimming, boating, kayaking, and other activities. A Wayne County judge subsequently overturned that ruling, leading to the current appeal.

Click here to read Altamaha Riverkeeper's letter to Georgia EPD with the attached EPA memo.

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Defending One of the Nation's Ecological Gems

Admired worldwide for its stunning beauty and rich biological diversity, the Georgia coast encompasses a lacework of barrier islands, mud flats, tidal creeks, blackwater rivers, freshwater wetlands, and 378,000 acres of salt marsh. More than 1,650 islands called "marsh hammocks" provide a secluded sanctuary for wildlife, and are sheltered by 14 barrier islands rimmed with more than 100 miles of white sandy beaches.

The ocean waters off the Georgia coast are prime calving grounds for the North Atlantic right whale—one of the rarest marine mammals on the planet and one of several endangered species that make their home in this region, including manatees, wood storks, and sea turtles.

Though it has largely escaped the ravages of massive resort development, this special region faces a perfect storm of threats, including under-enforcement of environmental laws, the sell-off of timberlands to developers, and intense development pressures.

What’s at Stake

Georgia harbors one-third of the salt marsh remaining on the East Coast, most of which is held by the state as a public resource, and one of incredible value. These vast expanses of grasses and meandering tidal creeks serve as nurseries for marine life and as vital buffers against storms.

Efforts to protect the Georgia coast’s salt marsh are more critical than ever. SELC and our partners continue to push for legislative and policy fixes in order to maintain and strengthen the marsh’s protective 25-foot buffer, essential to preserving these important ecosystems from pollutant-contaminated runoff from roofs, driveways, and roads that can adversely impact and even destroy large sections of marshlands.

SELC also continues to work toward securing buffer protections for marshlands, freshwater wetlands, and all other state waters not currently protected.

Conservation Groups Join Forces

Saving the Georgia coast is one of the toughest conservation challenges we face in the South today, and one of SELC’s highest priorities. SELC plays a vital role in serving as a law and policy advocate, and by helping to shape and implement conservation strategies to protect Georgia's coastal assets.

SELC’s 30 years of work on the Georgia coast has resulted in developing strategic partnerships with the environmental groups that have also been hard at work defending the region. In collaboration with these groups, SELC remains committed to providing the necessary legal support to ensure that the coast is protected for present and future generations.