By Representative Jeff Jones
One year-ago – Earth Day, April 22, 2014 – the Director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) of the Department of Natural Resources, announced that the State of Georgia would no longer enforce a long-standing provision requiring a 25-foot marsh protection buffer. (View EPD Director Jud Turner’s letter) The marsh buffer stipulation, which appears in the Erosion and Sedimentation Act, requires marsh front developments - whether large or small, commercial or residential - to observe a 25-foot buffer. The buffer’s purpose is to protect salt marshes from upland soil erosion, and runoff from construction and from commercial or residential marsh-side developments.
As a resident of coastal Georgia serving my first term in the Georgia House of Representatives, I was extremely concerned about the prospect that our coastal marshes were unprotected by a buffer and the possibility that our environmentally and economically important marsh buffers would continue unprotected.
Throughout the end of 2014, I continued to read, listen and learn more about coastal marsh protection issues. In the process, coastal residents and legislators voiced strong concerns and objections to EPD's decision to cease enforcement of the buffer provision. The EPD Director justified the decision to stop buffer enforcement because he said that language in the Erosion and Sedimentation Act was confusing, EPD's enforcement was inconsistent across the state and that the 2004 letter from ex-EPD Director Carol Couch, which had been acceptable for over 10 years was not enforceable as law (View Carol Couch’s 2004 memorandum). For example, for more than a decade, the agency had been enforcing the buffer on coastal salt marsh, but not on freshwater wetlands, which have their own, separate complexities, issues and challenges. Upon reading the language in the Erosion and Sedimentation Act, I began to better understand the confusion about the Act's applicability to coastal salt marsh and became convinced that we needed a legislative remedy.Read more