Cumberland Harbour Project Final Comments

April 16, 2004

Submitted via E-mail and U.S. mail
Ms. Jeannie Butler
Coastal Resources Division
One Conservation Way, Suite 300
Brunswick, GA 31520-8687

Re: Cumberland Harbour Project

Dear Jeannie:

We submit the following comments in regard to the Coastal Marshland Protection Act permit for the above referenced project. These are intended to augment comments on this project being submitted by the Southern Environmental Law Center on our behalf.

Impacts on Cumberland Island
The law establishing Cumberland Island National Seashore is unusual for National Park enabling legislation in that the protection of the island's natural resources are paramount:
    "...the seashore shall be permanently preserved in its primitive state, and no development...shall be undertaken which would be incompatible with the preservation of the unique flora or fauna or the physiographic conditions now prevailing..." (Section 6 b of PL 92-536).
Various factors related to the Cumberland Harbour project pose a direct threat to the legislative intent and designation of Cumberland Island for public benefit.
  • Scale of the project in proximity to the National Seashore
    Imposing facilities for boating that would accommodate as many as 1000 vessels could drastically alter the use of Cumberland Island and cause adverse impacts on both the shoreline and the quality of the wilderness experience provided to island visitors.
  • Marketing of the Cumberland Harbour Project
    Promotional materials being used by project developers cite proximity to Cumberland Island as a marketing device to increase appeal of lots being sold as home sites. Given the number of homes to be built and the amount of private, community, and marina boat storage space, it is reasonable to conclude that the project would induce a scale of impact on the National Seashore that would greatly exceed the visitation capacity determined in the Cumberland Island Management Plan being administered by the National Park Service. If so, this project would be violating the public purpose of federal legislation that established the Cumberland Island National Seashore.
  • Indirect Impacts
    In addition to adding boat-using visitor traffic entering Cumberland Island, the project is likely to have other adverse effects on the characteristics of the National Seashore that include resources protected under federal law, and which are specifically covered by PL 92-536. Noise from motorboats and lighting from waterfront structures and facilities will degrade or eradicate the "primitive state" preservation of Cumberland Island. Similarly, by providing no means for more extensive monitoring and assessment on an ongoing basis, the permit applicants cannot ensure prevention of unacceptable harm to water quality and marine life, which are an important part of the resource amenities of the National Seashore.

Evaluating, measuring, and controlling adverse impacts
Decisions made by the CMP Committee will be determined in large part by CRD staff assessment of the applicant's efforts to prevent, evaluate and/or control "unreasonably harmful erosion" and unreasonable interference "with conservation of fishŠ wildlife... or other resources...." In this application, such efforts by the applicant are primarily in the form of "best management practices" and "management plans" for the marinas. While such efforts are worthy, they are insufficient without extensive monitoring and assessment of the project's actual impacts, both during and after construction. For a project of this scale in an area that is so vulnerable to habitat disruption, water quality degradation, disturbance of natural areas that are designated for their national importance, and risks to wildlife, including federally protected marine mammals, reliable monitoring and assessment on a continuing basis are very important and complex responsibilities.

State resources available for such activities are severely constrained by budgeting limitations. In a recent study by Georgia State University, it was determined that state budgeting for environmental protection actually decreased by more than 30% as a portion of the state budget between 1991 and 2002. Moreover, since that study was completed, two additional budget cuts were imposed on all departments, so that DNR's budget in actual dollars has been diminished further. In her comments at the March 31 hearing on this project, CRD Director Susan Shipman stated that staff was not even available to ensure enforcement of controls on boat speed to protect manatees in "no wake zones." This is another strong indication of the deficiency in capacity of state staffing.

If the project is approved, unless means are provided for ensuring sufficient monitoring and assessment, it will be impossible to verify, and if necessary compensate for, either the claims of the applicant about project impacts, or the findings of the CRD staff and related permit conditions intended to protect resources at risk. Independent environmental consultants have estimated that the annual costs for monitoring and assessment would be a minimum of $60,000, and that would not cover any detailed evaluation of impacts on specific species, while providing only nominal assessment of critical habitat. If these latter functions were expanded to encompass exploring impacts on specific species and offering more thorough study of critical habitat conditions, the annual cost of monitoring could easily double or triple that amount, according to the independent estimate. Thus, enforcement costs are likely to be in the range of $60,000 to $180,000 per year, at least until the project is completely built and impacts from use of the site stabilize, probably a period of five years or more. Total cost for monitoring and assessment could approach $1 million.

It is clearly beyond any reasonable imposition on state financial resources for a single project to cause this level of burden without the applicant sharing a substantial portion of the costs. Further, if the permit is granted with no enforceable assurances that the applicant will share this burden, it is abundantly evident that the comprehensive monitoring and assessment needed will not be provided because resources are simply not adequate at DNR to enable state staff to do it.

In the absence of essential monitoring and assessment, the CMP Committee cannot make a determination that meets their obligation to protect the public interest as intended in the CMP Act. Therefore, issuing a permit under such circumstances would be in violation of the criteria for administering the CMP Act. Unless sufficient monitoring and assessment functions are ensured, consistent with an adaptive resource management plan that includes detailed procedures, schedules, and standards governing such activities, the Center for a Sustainable Coast is opposed to the issuance of a permit for this project.

We appreciate the opportunity to add these comments to my oral testimony already presented.


David C. Kyler
Executive Director
Center for a Sustainable Coast
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