News | January 4, 2016

SELC challenging harmful beach hardening project approved in Georgia

SELC, along with coastal organization One Hundred Miles, has challenged a state panel’s recent approval for a permit to build a 350-foot-long groin—a wall constructed perpendicular to the beach that traps shifting sand—that would worsen beach erosion issues in an ecologically-sensitive area of Georgia’s coast. 

Groins disrupt the natural sand-sharing system that moves sand from north to south along beaches on the eastern seaboard. By trapping sand and building up beaches on their northern sides, groins prevent sand from getting to their southern sides thus increasing beach erosion south of the structures.

Despite opposition from local citizens, conservation groups, geologists, and wildlife officials, Georgia’s Shore Protection Committee approved the groin permit for Sea Island Acquisition, LLC earlier this month. By disrupting the natural process of sand-transport, the company aims to create 1,200 feet of new beach to increase the marketability of luxury lots located on a narrow spit of land on the southern end of the island.

“We’ve seen the visible and far-reaching impacts beach hardening projects can have at the expense of shoreline health in surrounding areas,” said Senior Attorney Bill Sapp. “The groin would jeopardize the integrity of the southernmost portions of the Sea Island spit, an idyllic area with great ecological importance. The move would also set a terrible precedent that could open up other parts of Georgia’s coast to these destructive projects.”

A central objective of SELC’s coast and wetlands work is to ensure that shoreline protection is done in a responsible way, and to strengthen policies to prevent developers from exploiting regulatory loopholes to build structures that cause the loss of shorelines and valuable ecosystems.

In the case of Sea Island, an existing groin (permitted in 1990, the last groin approved in Georgia) has already increased beach erosion in areas south of the structure. The eroded area includes critical habitat for the threatened piping plover and nesting areas for the endangered loggerhead sea turtle, as well as key habitat for other threatened shorebirds and endangered sea turtles.

The Sea Island spit also serves as a recreational destination spot for kayakers who paddle over from the nearby St. Simons Island. The open ocean buffets the east side of the spit, while the western side faces pristine marshland.

SELC and One Hundred Miles are working closely on this matter with partners such as GreenLaw, Altamaha Riverkeeper, Surfrider Foundation, and Center for a Sustainable Coast.

Read more coverage:

“100 Miles to appeal Sea Island's beach plan”, Brunswick News

“Amid strong opposition, state panel approves Sea Island rock groin”, Savannah Morning News