Statement Supporting the Tybee Island Shore Protection Ordinance

By the Center for a Sustainable Coast
October 9, 2008

Protection of the dune field is essential to retaining a fully functional sand-sharing system that supports the natural movement of sand between the wet beach, ocean bottom, and dunes. Moreover, retaining healthy dunes helps absorb wave energy that is destructive to property, especially during coastal storms.

The imposition of hard surfaces or structures within the shore protection area must be very carefully controlled for at least two reasons. First, such engineered surfaces or structures interfere with the free movement of sand within the natural sand-sharing system. Depending on the location, orientation, and size of built features in the protection zone, they accelerate erosion or prevent sand from moving toward areas where it may help protect landward structures.

Secondly, hard surfaces in the shore protection area deflect wave energy instead of absorbing it, thereby adding to the destructive impacts of high winds and wave action during coastal storms. Increased flooding, erosion, and property damage are a direct result of improperly regulated development within areas close to the ocean shoreline.

Although there is a Shore Protection Act under Georgia state law, it is our observation that it has been erratically enforced by DNR. The permitting committee has repeatedly allowed building within the jurisdictional area that exceeds the prudent use of the Act to serve its intended purpose. Moreover, the workload and staffing capacity of DNR greatly limits the detail and kinds of analysis that are available to evaluate shore protection permit applications. Similar constraints limit DNR's ability to enforce shore permits and permit conditions.

Having a local shore protection ordinance like that of the City of Tybee provides an important means for backing up, refining, and augmenting analysis done by the state under the Shore Protection Act. Effective use of the local ordinance will prevent damage to property and risk to lives that would otherwise occur, even though there is a state shore protection program.

As evidence of the insufficiency of state support, consider that DNR's budget relative to the total state budget plummeted by 33% over a recent multi-year period when the state's population increased by more than 25%. If the City of Tybee Island hopes to ensure the viability of its beaches and shoreline, the city must assume greater responsibility to compensate for the state's decline in environmental protection. These natural resources are essential to generating local tourism revenues and protecting property values worth many millions of dollars annually. Related benefits to the economy and quality of life of the island and surrounding region amply justify the city's investment in the protection provided by the ordinance.

For all of these reasons, we strongly believe that the local shore protection ordinance serves the public interest of the citizens of the City of Tybee and many other Georgians who benefit from the island's beach-oriented recreational amenities. Therefore the ordinance should, at the very least, be retained and properly enforced. Further, we urge city officials to take steps to strengthen the ordinance by improving it to maximize protection of the sand sharing system that is so vital to your island community and the coastal Georgia region. This protection provides added security to both public and private property as well as the many Georgians who derive benefits from them.

David Kyler, Executive Director
Center for a Sustainable Coast
October 9, 2008
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