Court Rules in Favor of Sea Island Groin Construction
Atlanta, GA—Conservation groups lost an appeal today in Fulton County Superior Court 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.
The Southern Environmental Law Center representing One Hundred Miles and GreenLaw representing Altamaha Riverkeeper argued that shoreline erosion would worsen south of the proposed groin by disrupting the natural sand-sharing system. The groups also argued that 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.
Sea Island Acquisition LLC is also seeking a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit, which has not yet been granted or denied.
“We are disappointed in the decision, as the public interest requirement under the Shore Protection Act is explicitly intended to allow only activities that are in the best interest of the state,” said Megan Hinkle, Staff Attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “We are evaluating our options concerning the state permit, and will continue to monitor the federal permitting process required to move forward with the project on Sea Island. We also remain committed to strengthening the permitting structure under the Shore Protection Act to prevent future destructive projects from taking place on the Georgia coast.”
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) 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.
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.
The state administrative court denied the groups’ petition in August, despite finding that “construction of a new groin in the project area, particularly one with a T-head, will impede sea turtle nesting in several ways.”
About Southern Environmental Law Center:
The Southern Environmental Law Center is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. With nine offices across the region (Charlottesville, VA; Chapel Hill, NC; Atlanta, GA; Charleston, SC; Washington, DC; Birmingham, AL; Nashville, TN; Asheville, NC; and Richmond, VA), SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect the South’s natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.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