Groups release data demonstrating ‘warehouse takeover’ of coastal Georgia –  Coastal residents are encouraged to contribute their own data

For Immediate Release: November 1, 2023

COASTAL GEORGIA – One Hundred Miles, Ogeechee Riverkeeper, and other local nonprofit organizations are sounding the alarm about haphazard warehouse development and the industrialization of coastal Georgia. Their concerns lie not with local manufacturing and outlet warehouses, but with freight storage, known as distribution centers, and the lack of oversight into the impact that these large concrete complexes are having on local communities. 

To help Georgians better understand this unprecedented ‘warehouse takeover,’ the partners developed an open-source app to document the number of warehouses across Georgia’s coast. The app is intended to demonstrate how widespread warehouses are becoming and to help visualize the impacts they are having on the region.  

The state’s growing port system is fueling the push for private warehouse development. To date, the Georgia Ports Authority’s estimate of need has remained relatively consistent – totaling about 135 million square feet of space. The app demonstrates that currently there is already approximately 100 million square feet of built warehouse space and another 30-50 million square feet are under construction at this time.  Also available are about 40-50 million square feet in nearby Jasper County, SC. This totals about 200 million square feet of warehouse space available now and the near future (approximately 4,600 acres or 6,072 football fields.) This data does not account for the millions of square feet of property that are in the permitting process but not under construction. This data also does not account for the millions of square feet of speculative property being proposed for warehouse development.  

No federal or state agency has confirmed that they are collecting comprehensive data on the number of these types of industrial developments, the environmental impacts or the cultural/ community impacts in the region. Additionally, no agency claims responsibility for oversight or regulation. “The lack of coordination and oversight puts our neighborhoods and environment at risk. Transforming such vast lands from dirt to concrete is already causing drainage problems for neighboring communities, a drastic uptick in truck traffic and safety concerns, and threatens our drinking water” says Jen Hilburn, North Coast Advocate with One Hundred Miles, referring to a series of properties re-zoned to industrial next to the Savannah River drinking water intake. “Considering the damage and destruction already caused by warehouses, without some regional coordination, the newly announced port expansion will leave us with only memories of our coastal communities and rich culture.” 

“We are alarmed at the unchecked, uncoordinated warehouse growth happening throughout the lower Savannah River watershed in both Georgia and South Carolina,” says Tonya Bonitatibus, Savannah Riverkeeper. “The lack of coordination threatens evacuation corridors, has already put Savannah’s drinking water at high risk, and threatens the area’s resiliency that our community desperately needs.” 

“Over the last few years, we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of wetlands being lost to accommodate these warehouses,” says Damon Mullis, Ogeechee Riverkeeper. “These wetlands filter pollutants, protect communities from flooding, and guard against storm surge. And once they are gone, they can no longer serve those essential functions for our communities.” According to Ogeechee Riverkeepers calculations, 829 acres of wetlands have been filled for warehouses in Chatham, Bryan, and Effingham Counties since January 2020.  

Many fear that the warehouse explosion will erase the legacy of Black-owned lands in coastal Georgia, the geographic center of the Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor. “If we continue allowing unfettered warehouse development within historic communities like Monteith and Buckhalter, we are allowing the erasure of a foundational aspect of Georgia’s history,” says Josiah “Jazz” Watts, One Hundred Miles Justice Strategist and Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commissioner. “Many of these neighborhoods are now the posterchildren for what no community wants: generational lands owned by Black families are being surrounded by warehouses built on land sold by white neighbors. Every week, Black families are being divided, fractured, and pushed out of their ancestral homes.”  

“This is a case of profits over people—profits over displacement of community, family wealth and security,” says Dr. Jamal Toure, historian, preservationist, and human rights activist. “Those with a lot of wealth capital (money) are able to oppress those who do not. Some have viewed it as a ‘Black Community issue,’ not realizing they will be faced with the threat after us. We are the socioeconomic bellwether or thermometer for the cities, towns, and counties where we live. And there are no masterplans for warehouse development by local governments— it’s haphazard. That needs to change. The citizens’ voices need to be heard and adhered to regarding the solutions.” 

In response to the threat of industrialization, several local governments in the north coast have adopted moratoria on new warehouses development and re-zoning, a step encouraged by the partner groups. Rita Elliot of Effingham Georgia Green says, “The early 20th century paradigm that all growth and jobs are always good no longer holds. Residents are demanding that our decision-makers realize the devastating problems these industrial facilities bring – the fracturing of communities, industry shoved into neighbors’ back yards, traffic problems, and flooding.  This drastic shift from community needs to a gold-rush of industrial growth brings far more problems than benefits.”

And while the bulk of the industrialization is being felt on the north coast, advocates are quick to point out that every county in coastal Georgia (and southern South Carolina) is feeling the pressure. In Liberty County, approximately 10.6 million square feet of new warehouses have been approved in less than a year and a half. “Every day, these massive developments are charging further and further South,” says Susan Inman, One Hundred Miles Mid-Coast Advocate. “Warehouses are taking over across our coast, and we need everyone in coastal Georgia to pay attention and take action now, before it’s too late.”  

Courtney Reich, Coastal Director of the Georgia Conservancy says, “We need to come together as a community to make thoughtful decisions about how we use our land and water resources and the impact that those decisions will have on us and future generations. Regional economic benefits should be considered through the lens of local impacts. Healthy natural systems are an important part of an inclusive and thriving economy, and essential to a resilient coastal Georgia.” 

While supporting residents fighting the takeover, the groups continue to advocate for more coordination among coastal counties. “The goal is to build toward more resilient neighborhoods – those able to withstand adversity and trauma and bounce back from disasters,” says Jen Hilburn. “Instead of approving more unnecessary warehouses that are fracturing our communities and our heritage, our elected officials need to focus on community-driven planning for our water, greenspace, community, wastewater, and other urgent concerns that impact coastal Georgians’ daily lives.”  

The partner groups are working to foster community safety and integrity by advocating for federal and state agencies to incentivize and require better coordination among all agencies with a role in warehouse development. As the Georgia Ports Authority recently announced plans to expand Savannah operations, the groups emphasize the importance of citizen involvement and data contribution through the open source app, available through Arc GIS, at www.StopTheWarehouseTakeover.org.  

To learn more about the warehouse explosion and contribute to the open-source app available: www.StopTheWarehouseTakeover.org