Over the last few months, the citizens of St. Marys have demanded more answers around a New York developer’s ambiguous plans for an industrial site that could irreparably change the historic Georgia coastal town.
Despite few project specifics, it is widely believed that the site would include extensive industrial manufacturing facilities and possibly a new barge port on the 700-acre site, which is bordered by the North and the St. Marys Rivers, salt marsh, and freshwater wetlands. St. Marys is also the gateway to Cumberland Island, Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island.
Located on a former paper mill site, the developer had to first seek approval from the St. Marys City Council in order to have the site rezoned from mixed use to industrial use. Throughout the rezoning process and despite much prodding, the tight-lipped developer refused to provide details about what industries he was courting to relocate to the site.
Concerned that the proposed development could have serious negative impacts on the historic character and ecological value of St. Marys, SELC and St. Marys Earthkeeper worked with the city to develop a list of 33 special conditions to present to the St. Marys City Council and Mayor John Morrissey in advance of the vote.
The conditions included height limitations for buildings and other structures, prohibiting like wood pellets to be stored, handled, produced, or transported from the property, limitations on barge traffic and off-shore fossil fuel exploration, and protecting a nearby wood stork rookery and wetlands through a conservation easement.
After considerable public opposition from the community of St. Marys, which is home to about 17,000 residents, the City Council approved the rezoning, but not before issuing a revised version of 27 conditions. The revised conditions included preserving the rookery and wetlands in perpetuity rather than a conservation easement, and including wood logs and chips on the list of prohibited materials, but removing wood pellets from the list.
“Overall, we are glad that the majority of the special conditions were included in the rezoning approval, which will provide some additional protections for St. Marys,” said Senior Attorney Bill Sapp. “However, we urge the leaders of St. Marys to remain vigilant around any proposals to amend the rezoning or weaken the protections currently in place, and to involve the community in any future decisions concerning the site."
Read more about the St. Marys rezoning in the AJC: Historic coastal Georgia town wary of plans to redevelop paper plant