News | September 26, 2016

SELC, partners appeal Georgia court’s decision allowing construction of Sea Island groin

UPDATE: In late December, the Fulton County Superior Court denied our appeal challenging the proposed groin on Sea Island. SELC and our partners are evaluating our options concerning the state permit, and will continue to monitor the federal permitting process required to move forward with the project.

SELC has filed an appeal after a state administrative court denied a petition last month challenging the Georgia Shore Protection Committee’s issuance of a permit to build a groin in an ecologically-sensitive area of Sea Island. SELC is representing One Hundred Miles in the case, and GreenLaw is representing Altamaha Riverkeeper.

“As sea level rise and related shoreline retreat are increasingly impacting our coast, it’s critical to look to solutions that will provide the greatest benefit to the environment and to the people and wildlife that depend on healthy shorelines and beaches,” said Staff Attorney Megan Hinkle. “Groins and other structures that result in the loss of shorelines and valuable ecosystems are not an acceptable solution for the Georgia coast.”

Throughout the state administrative hearing, the groups called on expert testimony to show that building Sea Island’s existing groins resulted in visible loss of shoreline habitat, especially for endangered and threatened sea turtles that nest on the island, and they’d expect to see the same harmful effects from the proposed groin. Experts also testified that the groin would disrupt adult nesting turtles from getting to the beach and sea turtle hatchlings from making it safely to the sea.

Despite allowing the permit to proceed, the court found that “construction of a new groin in the project area…will impede sea turtle nesting in several ways.”

Sea Island Acquisition LLC is seeking to construct a 350-foot-long groin—a wall constructed perpendicular to the beach that traps shifting sand—to create 1,200 feet of new beach for eight luxury lots on a narrow spit on the southern end of Sea Island. The spit also serves as key habitat for endangered and threatened sea turtles and nesting areas for the threatened loggerhead sea turtle.

Despite public concern and opposition to the project from local residents, conservation groups, elected officials, and wildlife officials, the state Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Marshland and Shore Protection Committee granted a permit to Sea Island Acquisition LLC in December for construction of the groin.

SELC and partners filed petitions challenging the state panel’s approval, arguing that the groin would worsen shoreline erosion by disrupting the natural sand-sharing system, and would unreasonably impact the conservation of threatened and endangered sea turtles, all while Sea Island Acquisition LLC did not consider viable alternatives.

The company is also seeking a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit, which has not yet been granted or denied.

“The change in habitat that will be caused by this groin will have significant, long-term effects on Sea Island, Gould’s Inlet, and St. Simons Island, and the resources we have now are too important to risk on poorly planned development decisions,” said One Hundred Miles Executive Director, Megan Desrosiers.

Read the petition for judicial review here.