Though the Georgia coast was largely spared from hurricanes in 2018, storm damage to Sea Island from previous years has led developers to expand the scope of a harmful project that SELC and partners have been challenging over the past three years.
SELC, on behalf of Altamaha Riverkeeper and One Hundred Miles, recently filed a federal suit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, charging that the agency did not consider less damaging alternatives to a 350-foot-long groin—a rock wall constructed perpendicular to the beach that traps shifting sand. Considering that the permit conditions could allow construction to begin as early as November 1st, the groups also filed a preliminary injunction.
In addition to two existing structures, Sea Island Acquisition LLC initially applied for a permit to construct first permitted groin on the Georgia coast since the early 1990s in order to create 1,200 feet of new beach. The project is intended to increase the marketability for eight luxury lots on a narrow, ecologically-sensitive strip of land, known as the spit, on the southern end of the island.
“If we continue to allow these types of reckless and destructive projects along the Georgia coast, we run the risk of irreparably damaging the natural beauty and resources that make this unique region such an incredible asset to our state,” said Senior Attorney Bill Sapp. “There’s simply too much at stake to open our coast to this sort of ill-advised development.” ”
Sea Island was hit hard by both Hurricanes Matthew in 2016 and Irma in 2017, both of which severely eroded the beach face and many of the frontal dunes on the spit. The storms also damaged the main reach of the Sea Island beach, stripping much of the sand from between the existing groins.
As a result of the destruction and loss of sand, Sea Island Acquisition LLC amended its permit application in order to dredge sand from offshore in addition to constructing the groin, expanding the proposed beachfront area from 1,200 to 17,000 feet. In light of the significant modifications to the scope of the project, the groups charge that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not sufficiently consider alternatives or the full environmental impacts of the project. In comments submitted to the Corps in May, SELC argued that the new groin would worsen erosion issues to the Sea Island spit caused by the existing groins.
Largely protected by a conservation easement, the spit serves as key habitat and nesting areas for several species of threatened and endangered sea turtles and shorebirds, and is also a popular area for both local residents and tourists who frequently visit the public areas below the high water line to paddle, surf, bird-watch, and walk.