Comments on the Dover Bluff Project

Little Satilla River, Camden County

In commenting on the permit application of Little Satilla LLC, I again refer to the decision of Georgia Superior Court Judge Constance C. Russell on October 24, 2002, in our legal challenge that clarified the scope of the Act and reversed and remanded the permit issued by the Committee for Emerald Pointe back to the Administrative Law Judge. Quoting from the judge's ruling:

Analyzing the propriety of issuing permits for bridges and activities in the marshes in isolation from the larger purpose of the activity or structure does violence to the intent of the Act. The purpose of the Act is not limited to protection of the marshlands from activities specifically conducted in the marshlands. As stated by the Georgia legislature, the intent of the Act is to ensure that the values and functions of the coastal marshlands are not impaired. The purpose of the Act does not include the authority to regulate upland development; it does, however, certainly contemplate the obligation to determine whether authorizing a permit for part of a project is in the public interest if the project in its entirety will unreasonably harm the public interest as identified in the Coastal Marshlands Protection Act. (Civil Action No. 2002CV52219)

To apply this ruling in the case of the Dover Bluff project, we must ensure that adequate assessment of the entire project is conducted to protect the public interest as covered by the CMPA, and that any conditions imposed by the Committee as a result of this review are properly enforced. To make such assurances, design and construction details of the project must be sufficient to enable staff and Committee review that would meet the standards of the law, and which, if justified, could lead to a permit being issued and appropriate conditions being imposed, consistent with the Emerald Pointe ruling. Moreover, the state must provide a reliable means for taking appropriate actions to be sure that, if approved, the project is built as prescribed under this permit, and that impacts of the project are within the range and types anticipated in the permit application review.

Based on our observations of, and comments on, CRD staff analysis in the Terra Firma case, I also suggest the following considerations.
  • To retain their intended benefit, the buffers should be protected as conservation easements, with conditions enforced by the Coastal Georgia Land Trust, which already has designated responsibilities for protecting other features in this project. This will prevent encroachment into the buffer that is likely to occur over time under a restrictive covenant, since covenants are well known to be erratically enforced and often violated.
  • Run-off characteristics should be required to be the same as pre-development conditions. As we have previously stated, allowing a specific maximum percentage of impervious surface on a site-level basis is not an accurate method of protecting water quality unless there is extensive monitoring, which is unlikely to be practical. Limiting impervious surface by percent coverage is a groundrule developed for watersheds, and not a reliable limit in site-specific cases due to variations in landscape, vulnerability of resources to contamination and storm exposure, and proximity of impervious surfaces to public waters and related natural resources of interest.
  • Public costs for monitoring, assessing, and enforcing permit conditions are an important factor that must be taken into consideration as a practical matter in permitting projects such as this one. As these enforcement responsibilities mount due to the sensitivity of natural features at risk, the state should impose fees or negotiate with the permit applicant to arrive at some other equitable and commensurate means to provide revenues to meet these costs. There is no reason why taxpayers should subsidize development in environmentally vulnerable areas where permit enforcement is substantially more time consuming and expensive.
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