Center Comments on Coastal Permitting

Center executive director David Kyler testified at a public hearing called by Georgia General Assembly Representative Jerry Keen, who represents District 174. The reason for the hearing was to gather comments about delays allegedly being incurred by permit applicants (mostly developers) under the Coastal Marshlands Protection Act (CMPA). About forty people attended the meeting, and of the ten who gave testimony, all but Kyler were developers.

Note: The Center for a Sustainable Coast has been represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center in appealing two CMP permits:, Emerald Pointe in Chatham County, and Man Head Marina in Glynn County. In both these cases, the objective was to improve the standards used by the state in reviewing the application.

Rep. Keen explained that, as justified, he intends to correct alleged problems through legislation that would create a requirement for those appealing a permit to post a bond to cover expected costs of the state and permit applicant. Under this proposal, if an appeal were denied, the appellant's bond would be used to pay for the legal fees, added staff costs, and delays incurred by the state and the permit applicant.

Rep. Keen's opening remarks and claims made by various developers asserted that permit appeals have been increasing in recent years. Susan Shipman, director of the Coastal Resources Division (CRD) of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR), reported that there had been only eight active appeals when she became director in 2002, and that two new appeals have been filed since then.

In his testimony, Mr. Kyler not only underscored the very limited number of appeals actually being filed compared with the number of permits issued, but also stressed the need for more complete review of permit applications by CRD staff. Investing more in state review would reduce the likelihood of future appeals, he reasoned, and could also speed up the review process, helping to lessen further delays.

Referencing comments made by a local developer, Kyler noted that adopting a reasonable processing fee charged to permit applicants could help generate added funds required to pay for expanded review capacity. “Compared with the cost of delays for permit review reported by developers, such fees would be minuscule,” said Kyler, “and could help both sides of this issue with faster and more complete review.”

These remarks paralleled a series of statements that Kyler has made on the Center's behalf at recent permit hearings, where he urged the Coastal Marshlands Protection Committee to raise revenues to cover escalating permit review, monitoring, and enforcement costs by imposing a proportionate application fee.

Kyler further elaborated to justify the need for greater environmental enforcement efforts.
  • In proportion to the coastal region's growth, Coastal Resource Division's scale of operation is barely keeping pace. Population has doubled in the past 30 years and will double again to a million or more by 2030. Though the state budget has increased, enforcement funds have not kept up.
  • The number of docks permitted in the past eight years alone is 1,688, over 200 annually on average. In just 3 years (1999, 2000 & 2001), over 10,000 homes were built in the coastal region, with various adverse implications for natural resources.
  • Moreover, as the density of development increases, analyzing impacts of proposed projects becomes more complex due to the rising potential for actions of one property owner to adversely affect the interests of another.

Budgeting limitations and funding alternatives

Given Georgia's constitutional limitations on budgeting (no deficit spending), and increasingly vocal complaints by developers about the cost of delays caused by CRD review of applications for Coastal Marshland Protection permits, it seems perfectly reasonable to adopt a practice of imposing fees to assist in offsetting DNR costs of review and enforcement. These fees should be based on proportionate costs incurred by DNR in processing and enforcing permits (if approved) under the CMP program.

Although fees would add slightly to the cost of development, this amount would be minor compared with the cost of delays for some project permits. One developer reported that he incurred over $750,000 in interest due to delays in receiving his CMP permit for a project of 600 acres; a per-acre fee of $100 would generate $60,000, much lower than his interest cost.

Whatever the amount of a proper fee, it would be negligible compared with the cost of the land and structures built on proposed project sites, adding little to the homebuyer's burden if the project goes forward. Revenues generated by such fees could be used to expand DNR/CRD staff, thereby reducing the time required to properly review permits, set permit conditions, and enforce these conditions.

Another likely benefit is that with sufficient funding the public would receive more consistent and thorough analysis of information needed to enforce protection of coastal resources, through both permit review and enforcement. If so, this approach could be expected to further reduce the need to appeal permits, thereby avoiding legal costs and project delays, assuming regulations are carefully followed. The state's capacity to evaluate the effectiveness of permit conditions, and to upgrade environmental protection by refining such conditions, could also be enhanced.
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