Conservation Groups Appeal Decision Allowing Sea Island Groin Construction
Atlanta, GA—The Southern Environmental Law Center representing One Hundred Miles and GreenLaw representing Altamaha Riverkeeper filed an appeal today after a state administrative court denied the groups’ petition last month challenging the Georgia Shore Protection Committee’s issuance of a permit to Sea Island Acquisition LLC for construction of a groin in an ecologically-sensitive area of Sea Island.
Throughout the state administrative hearing, the groups called on expert testimony to show that Sea Island's existing groins had resulted in visible loss of shoreline habitat, especially for endangered and threatened sea turtles that nest on the island, and that the proposed groin would also have harmful effects. 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 affirming the issuance of the permit, the court found that “construction of a new groin in the project area, particularly one with a T-head, will impede sea turtle nesting in several ways.”
“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 Megan Hinkle, staff attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Groins and other structures that result in the loss of shorelines and valuable ecosystems are not an acceptable solution for the Georgia coast.”
“Based upon the undisputed expert testimony in this case, we believe that Sea Island's proposed groin will unreasonably interfere with the conservation of endangered and threatened sea turtles,” said Steve Caley, Legal Director for GreenLaw. “The proposed groin would prevent nesting adult females from reaching the beach to lay their eggs, entrap new sea turtle hatchlings within the groin, and concentrate predators that will eat the hatchlings before they are able to make their way safely to deeper waters.”
“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,” said One Hundred Miles Executive Director, Megan Desrosiers. “The Georgia coast is home to some of the most sensitive and cherished ecosystems in the country and the resources we have now are too important to risk on poorly planned development decisions.”
“In addition to providing some of the world’s most productive habitat, our Golden Isles must be protected for the local communities and visitors who love this special place, and so that future generations will continue to enjoy our beautiful beaches and ecological riches,” said Altamaha Riverkeeper and Executive Director, Jen Hilburn. “We will continue our efforts to stop irresponsible development of Georgia’s shorelines.”
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 of ecologically-sensitive land 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 Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Marshland and Shore Protection Committee granted a Shore Protection Act Permit to Sea Island Acquisition LLC in December 2015 for construction of the groin.
SELC (representing One Hundred Miles) and GreenLaw (representing Altamaha Riverkeeper and Surfrider Foundation) filed petitions challenging the state panel’s approval. Under the Shore Protection Act, the groups argued that the groin would worsen shoreline erosion south of the proposed groin by disrupting the natural sand-sharing system, the groin would unreasonably impact the conservation of threatened and endangered sea turtles, and that Sea Island Acquisition LLC did not consider reasonable or viable alternatives.
The company is also seeking a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit, which has not yet been granted or denied.
About 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 more than 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. www.SouthernEnvironment.org
As a 501(c)(3) law firm, GreenLaw advocates to preserve Georgia’s unique natural places and enforces compliance with environmental law through the court system. GreenLaw was founded in 1992 by attorneys, law professors, and judges committed to providing community groups in Georgia with the legal and technical tools needed to protect their environment and public health. For more information, please visit www.greenlaw.org.
About One Hundred Miles:
One Hundred Miles is a coastal advocacy organization dedicated to protecting, preserving and enhancing the 100-mile Georgia coast. One Hundred Miles seeks to bring statewide attention to the opportunities and challenges facing Georgia’s unique coast. www.onehundredmiles.org
About Altamaha Riverkeeper:
Altamaha Riverkeeper is a non-profit organization that’s been dedicated to the protection, defense, and restoration of the Altamaha, Ocmulgee, Oconee & Ohoopee Rivers and the Golden Isles since 1999. With the largest river system draining into the SE Atlantic Ocean, Altamaha Riverkeeper continues to protect the rights of our communities use and enjoyment of over 700 miles of rivers in Georgia and hundreds of miles of navigable waterways along our Golden Isles. www.altamahariverkeeper.org