Press Release | April 22, 2014

Coastal Groups Denounce Governor’s Decision to Strip Georgia Coast of Protective Buffer

Brunswick, GA—Coastal groups have expressed disappointment in the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s announcement earlier today to strip the Georgia Coast of the 25-foot buffer designed to protect the marsh from development and other impacts. 

“Georgia law requires a 25-foot buffer on all State Waters including the marsh, a law which has been enforced for the past two decades,” said Bill Sapp, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.  “It is incomprehensible that Governor Deal would remove this buffer when the marsh is more vulnerable than ever.”

The Georgia Coast is home to one third of the salt marsh on the East Coast and sustains an extensive array of plant and animal species, while also supporting multi-million dollar commercial and recreational fishing industries. The groups charge that the decision to remove the buffer protecting the salt marsh will jeopardize a defining feature of Coastal Georgia.

“We are extremely disappointed that our Environmental State Agency has taken such a drastic step backwards in protecting our coastal water resources,” said Tonya Bonitatibus, the Savannah Riverkeeper. “We urge the Governor to restore these protections that are essential to maintaining this valuable asset to the coastal community.”

Protections for saltwater marshes are necessary to preserve these important ecosystems from pollutant-contaminated runoff from roofs, driveways, and roads, which can adversely impact and even destroy large sections of marshlands. 

“Georgia's policy of requiring buffers between development and the marsh is one of the things that has preserved our salt marsh to date,” said Megan Desrosiers, Executive Director of One Hundred Miles. “The decision to no longer require a 25-foot buffer between saltwater marsh and development is in violation of the Erosion and Sedimentation Act and a direct assault on the Coastal Georgia community.”

“By ridding the coast of this buffer, which is protected under law, Governor Deal has put the strip of land that protects these vital, at-risk natural assets in harm’s way to be developed and destroyed,” said April Ingle, Executive Director of Georgia River Network. “This decision is certainly not an ideal way to commemorate Earth Day.”

In light of Governor Deal’s decision today, the environmental community will continue to work to restore the protections the marshlands deserve for all Georgians who care and call the coast home for all or part of the year.

“Almost 60 years ago, Georgia led the world in establishing the value of tidal marshes through its research at UGA Marine Institute on Sapelo Island,” said Ashby Nix, the Satilla Riverkeeper.  “It is a sad Earth Day for Georgians when our Governor's administration neglects to recognize the significance of that great achievement.”



Southern Environmental Law Center: The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of nearly 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use.

Savannah Riverkeeper: The Savannah Riverkeeper serves as the primary guardian of the Savannah River striving to respect, protect, and improve the entire river basin through education, advocacy, and action. We are a 501 c (3) non-profit organization funded by individuals and foundations that share our commitment to creating a clean and healthy river that sustains life and is cherished by its people.

One Hundred Miles: One Hundred Miles is a newly formed conservation advocacy organization dedicated to preserving, protecting and celebrating the 100-mile Georgia coast. One Hundred Miles seeks to bring statewide attention to the opportunities and challenges facing the Georgia’s unique coast.

Georgia River Network: Georgia River Network is a statewide organization working to ensure a clean water legacy by engaging and empowering Georgians to protect, restore and enjoy our rivers from the mountains to the coast. Founded in 1998, Georgia River Network has over 700 members and works with a network of 30+ groups across the state to protect Georgia's waterways.

Satilla Riverkeeper: The Satilla Riverkeeper’s vision is a Satilla River that supports healthy fisheries, safe swimming, diverse wildlife, outstanding recreation, clean drinking water, and sustainable human economic activity throughout the basin.

Are you a reporter and would like more information? Please visit our press contact page for a full list of SELC’s press contacts.

Press Contacts

Bill Sapp

Senior Attorney specializing in wetlands and coastal issues

Phone: 404-521-9900