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Cumberland Harbour Guest Editorial

Printed in The Brunswick News January 12, 2006

January 6, 2006
Editorial Board
The Brunswick News
3011 Altama Avenue
Brunswick, Georgia 31520

Re. Cumberland Harbour Project, St. Marys

Dear Sirs:

Over the last few years the editors of the Brunswick News have been the first to advise why we as citizens of Coastal Georgia should be good stewards of the abundant natural resources with which we are blessed. They have strived to strike a balance between economic development and environmental protection. It was therefore alarming to read their editorial claiming simply that the marinas proposed as a part of the Cumberland Harbour development in Camden County would benefit many.

It may be hard to see past the riches that Cumberland Harbour and similar developments are expected to bring to the region in the form of real-estate investors and retirees migrating to the coast. But to ignore the total cost of this and other developments would be shortsighted and irresponsible. From a broader perspective, Georgians have a lot to lose unless such projects are very carefully regulated.

The region's water quality may suffer, while the threatened, endangered and other species of fish and wildlife that are so vital to our quality of life may be unintended victims of Cumberland Harbour. This is to say nothing of the impacts on Cumberland Island, a pristine barrier island that is being marketed as the backyard playground for project residents. These resources are woven together in intricate ways a threat to one produces ripple effects on the entire system in ways that haven't been fully evaluated. In the absence of needed evaluation, prospective consequences are troubling.

In fact, so much about the impacts of this project remains unknown that that both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service have expressed their concerns in writing, and have withheld their approval of the project, contrary to reports by the Brunswick News.

However, the Coastal Marshlands Protection Committee, which had never before been faced with a project the size of Cumberland Harbour, prematurely authorized the project, placing stock in incomplete information that was acknowledged as deficient during the permit process. Not only did it grant the permit before all the biological assessments were complete, but the Committee also relied far too heavily on unenforceable promises made by the developer to lessen the project's known environmental impacts. Moreover, the Committee deprived Georgia's citizens of their right to voice concerns based on more complete assessment prior to project approval.

The Committee pointed out that the permit imposes speed limits and boater-education to lessen the threat to endangered marine life. However, the Committee provided no enforcement measures and no way to effectively identify and correct future problems as they arise. Similarly, water-quality monitoring and measures to improve stormwater runoff lack sufficient enforcement mechanisms, and in some instances, there are no assurances that substantial impacts will even be identified if and when they occur.

In the absence of solid science, thorough monitoring, enforceable permit conditions, and reliable mechanisms to prevent environmental damage, the permit should not have been issued. Effects of stormwater runoff, construction, boat traffic, and marina operations threaten the production of the shrimp, crabs, trout, and reds that form the basis of our coastal heritage. Those potential harms needlessly jeopardize the survival of endangered animals that are the benchmarks measuring how responsibly we are managing Coastal Georgia's ecosystems. This permit and the project as approved are not examples of good stewardship.

In light of this conclusion, it is alarming that the Cumberland Harbour project is being heralded as a model for how to develop the Georgia coast. Immediate re-evaluation of the project is all the more necessary due to the adverse aggregate effects of this and many similar developments on coastal resources that are already impaired.

As development comes to coastal Georgia, bringing jobs, revenue, infrastructure and other benefits, we must not forget that our majestic marshlands, unique barrier islands and breathtaking beaches are essential to our prosperity. If we want to reap the benefits of development for generations to come, we must do all we can to protect these natural treasures. Our permit appeal is motivated by this worthy objective and amply supported by the facts.

Submitted by authorized representatives of the permit appellants on behalf of their respective organizations.

David Kyler, Center for a Sustainable Coast
912-638-3612

April Ingle, Georgia River Network
706-549-4508

Gordon Rogers, Satilla Riverkeeper
912-223-6761
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