Background: The Coastal Marshlands Protection Act (CMPA) states . . .
This coastal marshlands resource system is costly, if not impossible, to reconstruct or rehabilitate once adversely affected by man. It is important to conserve this system for the present and future use and enjoyment of all citizens and visitors to our state. Activities and structures in the coastal marshlands must be regulated to ensure that the values and functions of the coastal marshlands are not impaired and to fulfill the responsibilities of each generation as public trustees of the coastal marshlands for succeeding generations. (Code 1981, § 12-5-281, enacted by Ga. L. 1992, p. 2294, § 1.)
A Coastal Marshlands Protection Act permit is required for any project which involves removing, filling, dredging, draining or otherwise altering any marshlands. Once a permitted project is constructed, it can be maintained without a permit as long as maintenance does not alter natural vegetation or topography of the site. (O.C.G.A. § 12-5-286(a))
Today, the Georgia Supreme Court heard arguments in a dispute regarding Cumberland Harbour, a 1,014-acre gated subdivision (with 1,200 proposed homes) built across from the Cumberland Island National Seashore on a peninsula surrounded by marshlands. The proposed project is highlighted in red on the map above.
In 2005, Cumberland Harbour developer, the Land Resource Cos., was granted a state permit to build two marinas and three community docks over public marshlands/waterbottoms. This would create the largest marina complex in Georgia with more than 17,500 linear feet (approx. 3.5 miles) of floating docks.
The Cumberland Harbour project has been tied up in court ever since, with opponents (represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center) arguing that state regulators granted the marina permit without considering the potential negative impacts to the marsh caused by polluting stormwater runoff from the entire development (including homes built on the peninsula’s uplands).
The central legal issue before the Court is whether development on land, rather than just in the marsh itself, is covered by the CMPA.
In 2006, an Administrative Law Judge and the Fulton County Superior Court said yes. In 2007, the Georgia Court of Appeals said no. One way or the other, the State Supreme Court decision on this matter will have a significant impact on Coastal Georgia development.
Coastal Georgia salt marsh comprises approximately 1/3 of the total salt marsh acreage remaining on the East Coast. Georgia’s coastal marshes are of great importance to the region’s ecology, economy, culture and history. The marshes provide protection from coastal flooding and erosion, habitat and nourishment for fish and wildlife (including commercially and recreationally significant fish and shellfish), recreational opportunities and a natural filter to control and disseminate pollutants.
We’ll be following this case, so check back for updates. In the mean time, you can read more about the history of this legal issue (including the development’s probable negative impact on right whales, manatees and sea turtles) HERE.
What do you think Sustainable Savannah readers . . . How far upstream should marshland protection regulations extend?