When We Litigate

At the end of June, we filed litigation against the City of Brunswick and Maritime Homes over a new development. Despite overwhelming opposition from neighbors and evidence presented by OHM, members of the community, and lawyers that the proposed apartment complex violated the city’s design and zoning ordinances on the marsh front along Highway 17, City Commissioners voted 3-2 to advance the project.

We speak out about projects nearly every day of the week in every local jurisdiction on our coast. Rarely does our opposition lead to litigation. But in very special and important instances like this one, it does.

I wanted to share more about how we make the difficult decision to litigate so that, as supporters of OHM, you better understand our thought process and have confidence that your investment in our work is a responsible one.

Litigation must always be carefully considered. We ask many questions before pursuing litigation, such as:

  • Is the case law clear regarding the perceived violation of the law?
  • Have we been involved throughout the duration of the decision-making process on this project, and has our position been consistent and clear?
  • What will the precedent be if we win or lose?
  • Is OHM’s involvement necessary or are their other groups willing to take the case?
  • Can OHM afford the legal fees?
  • What will happen regarding the proposed project if we don’t litigate?

This careful, strategic approach has led to some big wins over the past 10 years—wins that have protected important resources and communities that would be in much worse condition had we not acted. Here are a few examples:

The Commissioner of the GA DNR vs. Honeywell International, LLC (2020): 
After nearly seven decades of failure to clean up the Brunswick LCP superfund site, in 2019 the Georgia Department of Natural Resources announced a settlement with Honeywell (the responsible party) to compensate for the recreational fishing opportunities lost due to contamination. Despite having received cost estimates of the damage equal to $4 billion, the parties proposed a settlement of $4 million—an amount equal to less than 1/100 of the total estimated cost.

Recognizing that this settlement would have been the end of negotiations for compensation and that $4 million was completely inadequate, OHM hired an independent attorney to file a motion to intervene in the settlement. In response, the parties promptly withdrew the proposed settlement and went back to negotiating.

Since then, OHM has been advocating for a Natural Resources Damage Assessment, which would more accurately determine the true value of the loss; this could lead to a fairer settlement amount and a much larger benefit for the communities affected by the contamination.

OHM vs. US Army Corps of Engineers (2021)
: After more than 30 years adhering to winter dredging windows, in 2020, the US Army Corps of Engineers announced plans to dredge Brunswick and Savannah Harbors during sea turtle nesting season—without requiring any environmental review as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In making this abrupt and dangerous decision, the Corps ignored comments from hundreds of sea turtle experts, scientists, and members of the public urging them to stick to their safe and effective decades-old policy of winter dredging.

Represented by the Southern Environmental Law Firm (SELC), OHM filed a motion for a temporary injunction with a federal court in Savannah. Our case highlighted the harm summer dredging would pose to nesting sea turtles and other species. We pulled in scientific experts, as well as sea turtle volunteers who are members of OHM, who could speak to the impact the Corps’ action would have. Ultimately, after reviewing these stories and testimony in which the Corps admitted they had violated federal law, the judge ruled in our favor, preventing the Corps from moving forward with their plan and saving untold number of threatened and endangered sea turtles from being killed.

Despite the 2021 victory, the Corps immediately resurrected plans to dredge year-round and we had to file another challenge last December. Fortunately, after OHM took action, the Corps changed course and agreed to rigorously research the impacts of summer dredging. Had we not brought this case and remained vigilant after our initial win, the Army Corps would be well on its way to setting back nearly 60 years of sea turtle population recovery efforts along Georgia’s coast.

Camden County vs. Petitioners and OHM vs. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Camden County (2022): 
In our ongoing, years-long battle against Spaceport Camden, OHM assisted a citizens’ group in utilizing a rarely used provision of the Georgia State Constitution: registered voters have a right to petition for a referendum to repeal an action of a county government. The voters in Camden County sought to repeal the County Commission vote to purchase the proposed location for Spaceport Camden. During COVID, OHM stepped in to help. We collected the required number of signatures, and a referendum was held in April of 2022. In a 72%-27% victory, Camden voters overwhelmingly voted to repeal the resolution to purchase the spaceport location, which invalidated any contract Camden County had with the owner of the property. Camden filed challenges to the referendum and the petitions. OHM was not a party to the lawsuits, but we were able to use our resources and connections to fundraise for the legal fees and to hire independent attorneys to defend the petition and referendum. Our involvement resulted in setting an important legal precedent at the Supreme Court of Georgia and provided a back stop for residents to execute their right to protect their shared resources.

At the same time, Camden County’s Launch Site Operator’s License granted by the FAA is still in play for the project. OHM, with our partners at SELC, filed a challenge to the FAA’s issuance of the license. Our goal is to put a final nail in the Spaceport Camden coffin so that we, along with the Cumberland Island National Seashore, Jekyll Island, and private landowners who would have been put at risk from rocket launches, can breathe a sigh of relief. OHM was the only organization poised to both defend the spaceport referendum and challenge the FAA license.

Over the past 10 years, we have proven that OHM stands ready to act. Our action always begins by communicating our love for this place. But advocacy that’s only about love isn’t always the most effective tool in our toolbox. Sometimes more traditional forms of advocacy—like litigation—are needed. Ultimately, no matter how much we stand together to celebrate a place, the decision makers may still vote for projects that will destroy it. Litigation is always a drastic step. But under the right circumstance, it is one we are willing to take if it is what is necessary to protect our coast.

If you have questions about OHM’s strategy or would like more information about any of these cases, please let me know.

Thanks for all you do,


The Complexity of Our Coast

If you’ve been around One Hundred Miles for our first 10 years, you’ve probably noticed that we’ve built our organization by celebrating Georgia’s unique 100-mile coast. We say things like: “It starts with love” and “Georgia’s coast is a wonder of the world.” Carrying this thread of celebration forward, our mission is to “protect and preserve Georgia’s 100-mile coast through advocacy, education, and citizen engagement.” The positive image of our coast is one of the reasons people are drawn to OHM. It inspires our sense of pride, which hopefully compels us all to take action to protect it. 

We do have a wonderful resource. Georgia’s 100 miles of coastline contains 33% of the remaining salt marsh on the eastern seaboard. Our 14 barrier islands (only 4 of which are developed) are designated by the Western Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve Network as a landscape of hemispheric importance for migrating shorebirds like the red knot. Every year, North Atlantic right whales and loggerhead sea turtles migrate thousands of miles to give birth or lay their eggs on our coast. I could go on.

Over the past 10 years, we’ve worked hard to protect and preserve. We’ve defended laws like the Shore Protection Act and the Marsh Protection Act. We’ve litigated against developments and to protect our wildlife. We’ve fought proposals for projects like Spaceport Camden and offshore drilling. Most importantly, we built a network of more than 20,000 people who can jump into action the very minute we find out about a bad idea threatening our coast. All of this has been motivated by a desire to protect this extraordinary place. 

As we look forward to our next 10 years, we must continue to celebrate. But we recognize that celebrating, protecting, and preserving are only part of what’s necessary. As we begin the work for our next strategic plan, we will focus on more than our natural resources. Our charge will be to also incorporate the relationships—good and bad—people have with our coast.

Since January, we’ve been traveling up and down our coast interviewing and collecting stories from the people who live here, grew up here, are raising their children here. We are learning about their relationships with our coast. These stories reveal two things we all have in common—a love for this place and the struggle to build a life in the rural south. Conflicts between development and conservation, rising seas and flooding, and pollution and poverty are real issues that influence the choices people make in their everyday lives and when they vote.

Working with a professional creative agency and author George Dawes Green, founder of The Moth, we’re turning these stories into video portraits that will soon be available through our website and in media across Georgia. We hope that they will inspire you to look at our coast in a whole new way, to learn about our dedicated conservation partners leading the way for coastal Georgia’s landscapes, human communities, and wildlife, and ultimately, to find your own path forward to fight for the coast you want to see.

We will begin sharing these video portraits with you this summer (stay tuned for a sneak peek in mid-June!). Some of them focus on professionals doing work to conserve our coast. Others are from regular people who have had a lifetime of experiences—and challenges—in this place. Whether happy or sad, funny or serious, they all reveal a commitment to coastal Georgia, to this place and its people. And together, the people who are sharing their stories with us, show us that it is possible to love something and also acknowledge it needs work. 

Our work and these stories remind us that if we are to continue our success, we must work within communities to do more than protect and preserve, we must also seek to understand and improve.

And the first step is to listen.

Thank you for all you do,


Coastal Resilience

Re-sil-ience: the capacity to withstand or to recover quickly from difficulties.


For the past two decades, there’s been a lot of discussion about the concept of resiliency, specifically as it relates to preparedness for the impacts of climate change and sea level rise. There are all kinds of incentives for helping communities improve their climate resiliency—from federal grants for infrastructure improvements to educational opportunities and rebates on building materials.

We must prepare vulnerable coastal communities to be resilient. But resilience means so much more than infrastructure and engineering, and climate change is not the only threat our coast and its people are experiencing. From Chatham to Camden, industrial warehouse development is overrunning residential communitiesMega RV parks and travel centers with hundreds of gas tanks are rapidly being approved despite opposition from residents—or in some cases, they are essentially done deals before residents even have a chance to weigh in. Most of these projects are not in compliance with local planning ordinances, and the thousands of people raising their voices in opposition are being boxed out by elected officials who have a mentality of “grow anyhow, anywhere, anytime.”

This is the opposite of resilience.

A truly resilient community is full of residents and elected officials who understand what makes their place special, and they celebrate, protect, and enhance that unique identity. They ensure new proposed projects don’t make existing problems worse or usurp funding for solutions to those problems. People living in resilient communities set goals for achieving their community vision. Equally important, they stick to them, actively defending their goals and vision when a proposal comes into conflict with them.

The State of Georgia requires it. In the midst of these big community conversations about large projects and permanent changes to our landscape, many of our coastal counties and cities are updating their Comprehensive Plans and zoning ordinances. But they are going about it the wrong way. Last week, I was at a Comprehensive Planning meeting when a county staff person told me that they were just going through the motions to meet the requirements of the state. He said they were “checking a box.” In other words, they will spend time and money, ask for and record public input, draft, and approve a new plan—one that the planning department and County Commissioners will promptly ignore.

This keeps happening because we are not resilient.

It’s not for a lack of interest or engagement on the public’s part. Today, in every coastal county, regular commission meetings are packed with people who are raising their voices. Remember last year’s petition and referendum when thousands of Camden voters repealed the County Commissioners’ votes to purchase the spaceport property? And this year EPD, members of the Georgia Legislature, and the US Army Corps of Engineers received more than 160,000 comments on proposals to mine the Okefenokee swamp and pass legislation to protect it.

Yet our elected officials and planners continue to listen to the developers instead of the people they were elected to represent. This is frustrating, but if we all ramp up the effort to improve our communities’ resilience, there is hope. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Let’s start engaging City and County Commissioners in respectful conversations outside of the meeting rooms. Consider inviting them to your neighborhood association meeting or a community picnic. Introduce yourself when you run into them in the school parking lot, at the beach, or in the grocery store. Don’t be afraid to mention your hopes and concerns.
  • Regularly communicate about issues in public forums. Write a letter to the editor; tag a commissioner on social media; start a petition. Don’t wait until decisions have already been made to express your opinions. Encourage your friends and neighbors to do the same.
  • Become one of the decision makers. You can do this by submitting your application for appointment to serve on a local Planning Commission or Historic Preservation Board. Or you could take it one step further and run for office.

We know these solutions aren’t always simple, but we’re here to help. On October 21, we’ll once again be holding our in-person Choosing to Lead Conference on Jekyll Island. One of our focuses this year will be on resiliency—of all kinds. We hope you’ll save the date. In the meantime, reach out to any of us at OHM with questions or to find ways to get more involved.

We must prepare our communities to be resilient—to withstand and recover. This requires all of us. I’ll leave you with a quote we’ve all heard before. As we find ourselves at a turning point for our coast—with our landscapes, wildlife, and people at risk—it is now more important than ever to keep it in mind.


“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” ― Margaret Mead


Thanks for all you do.


Experiencing the Wonder of Georgia’s Coast

As we continue to celebrate OHM’s tenth anniversary throughout 2023, we’re committed to taking you behind the scenes of our work and staying in touch. I’m grateful to share these Insider Updates with you—look for them every other month or so, and as urgent issues arise. We’re also restarting our monthly newsletter, The Monthly Mile, this week! (Sign up here if you aren’t already on our mailing list). As always, please reach out to me or any member of our team if you have questions about our issues or ways to get involved. 



After a long battle with cancer and a related but short non-cancer illness, my mother passed away on December 11. She was my best friend and the reason I am a hard-working, loyal, and conscientious human being. Since her passing, I’ve found comfort by surrounding myself with the wilderness of our coast. Sitting in silence, listening to birds, watching the water, feeling the wind—these actions ground me and give me peace. In those moments of quiet, I am reminded that we are all part of something bigger. My mother’s loss looms large in my life, but she was just one being on a planet full of others who breathe the same air and drink the same water. She is gone, and life goes on.

On September 29, my parents’ community was devastated by Hurricane Ian. Around that time, here in Georgia, the National Park Service (NPS) released a draft Visitor Use Management Plan (VUMP) for Cumberland Island National Seashore. This plan establishes the rules for the use of the park by visitors and outlines the necessary steps the NPS will take to ensure visitation does not threaten the wilderness and wildlife in the park. In this draft, the NPS proposes increasing daily visitation to the park from 300 people to 700 by increasing the number of ferry trips and the docking locations on the island.

Throughout October and November, as I was trying to help my parents recover from the storm and figure out what was happening with my mom’s health, the VUMP was on my radar. Because we had until December 30 to submit comments, I put it on the back burner as I prioritized other work and my family situation. I didn’t get a chance to dive into the plan until after my mom’s passing.

As I reviewed the document, one notion stuck with me: the value of having regular access to wilderness. And not just any wilderness, but the crown jewel of our coast. An area so significant that 50 years ago, it was designated a national seashore and preserved as a public resource for all to enjoy. Access to sacred places in nature is essential for the purpose of education, understanding, health, science, spirituality, healing, and the myriad other reasons we need to be reminded every day that life is bigger than our individual selves. Yet we know that there are many barriers to accessing outdoor spaces that disproportionately impact economically challenged communities and many communities of color. In a time when we are increasingly asking Georgians to make important decisions about our natural resources, we need to be promoting—and not restricting—responsible and equitable access to these sacred spaces. 

One Hundred Miles supports the proposed visitor increase to Cumberland Island National Seashore (read our letter here). But we also know that increased access requires us to be even more intentional about the stewardship of this critical global resource. It is up to the NPS to partner with members of the scientific community to ensure that increasing visitation does not threaten the quality of Cumberland’s habitats and wilderness. If the impact of visitation is properly monitored and mitigated, the island’s more than 35,000 acres of land and 17.5 miles of beach should be able to withstand the increase.

Many people believe that the best way to protect a place is to keep people away from it. (We’ve all seen the bumper stickers: “Shhh…” or “Georgia has a coast?,” promoting the idea that our coast is Georgia’s best kept secret and should stay that way.) But being here on the coast for 10 years, I’ve learned that keeping people away has not solved our problems. To the contrary, keeping people away from our wild coast only perpetuates a disconnect—leading to a misunderstanding of its value that may lead to its destruction.  

Cumberland Island National Seashore provides essential opportunities to experience wonder and awe. These experiences help us better understand our planet, ourselves, and our responsibility.  

I feel fortunate that over the past few months I have allowed myself to be inspired by our coast. I know I’m not alone. As you consider OHM’s position and the proposals outlined in the VUMP, I encourage you to reflect on your own formative experiences on Cumberland Island and other barrier islands. How have these moments shaped your own relationship with our coast? And without them, would you still be willing to fight to protect it? 


Thanks for reading this note and for all you do. 


Our Moral Imperative

Georgians are deeply connected to the wildlife with which we share our coast. So much so that our experiences have become a regular part of our life stories. We share when we’ve seen the first painted buntings or roseate spoonbills of the year. Sea turtle walks and dolphin tours are regular outings on our calendars. And it is front page news when right whales arrive every winter and calves are spotted.

Of course, it is important to consider that just as the presence of a variety of unique, beautiful, and sometimes very rare wildlife defines our coast, so do the efforts that have been undertaken to keep them safe.

One of the most well-known examples is our coast’s work to protect loggerhead sea turtles. Little Cumberland Island is home to the oldest (50+ years) sea turtle monitoring program in the world. Today, every spring and summer, more than 200 staff and volunteers of the Georgia Sea Turtle Cooperative come together to monitor nesting on each of our barrier island beaches. As a result of the early nest protections of the 70s and 80s and the implementations of turtle excluder devices, loggerheads have been experiencing record nesting years over the past decade. But we know they’re not out of the woods yet—in fact, the population is expected to plateau or even decline for most of the next 20 years.

While right whales are more difficult to reach, the work to preserve our state marine mammal is another example of efforts undertaken by coastal Georgians to ensure species survival. Every winter, the dedicated scientists at DNR monitor the waters off our coast. They document births and respond to injured or entangled whales. Even for those of us who don’t have the opportunity to experience the whales, any information about their annual presence is welcome news. When the newspapers print stories about their births, struggles, and deaths, we celebrate, worry, and mourn accordingly. Our connection to these gentle giants is strong and deep.

Yet despite the gargantuan efforts to protect them, the unintended consequences that threaten these two iconic species are almost inconceivable.

For example, a few weeks ago, we learned that beginning this year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to dredge and widen shipping channels in Savannah and Brunswick throughout the spring and summer months when nesting loggerheads are in local waters. According to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR), dredging during the spring and summer could potentially kill as many as 87% of the females nesting in the vicinity of the Brunswick shipping channel and 47% of those nesting near the Savannah shipping channel.

The threats to the right whale are just as overwhelming. This year we celebrated the birth of 17 North Atlantic right whale calves – the highest number of baby whales since 2015, and a cause for cautious optimism since the number of births dropped to zero in 2018. But it is a far cry from the approximately two dozen calves scientists say must be born annually in order to sustain the species. When compared with the fact that, since 2017, at least 47 (including 2 already this year) whales have been killed by ship strikes and fishing gear entanglements, simple math reveals that their reproduction rate is not keeping pace with mortality. With fewer than 375 remaining on the planet, experts predict that unless drastic action is taken, the North Atlantic right whale will become functionally extinct within the next 20 years.

It is time to ask ourselves a very important question: At what point do the “unintended consequences” of human behavior become “intended” because our society chooses to move forward despite information that reveals that our actions will have harmful impacts?

Our efforts to save these species without stopping the causes of their decline are not keeping pace. It’s time to do something different. It’s time to demand change.

When DNR announced earlier this month that they were seeking public comments regarding the Corps’ plan to dredge, we began working with our advocate network, the media, and partner organizations to spread the word. As a result, in just over one week, more than 400 (and counting!) people have already submitted comments. This is only the beginning of our effort to prevent the sabotaging of nearly six decades of loggerhead population recovery efforts because of a dangerous and unnecessary timing decision. We will continue our advocacy, which includes public involvement, policy change, and (potentially) even litigation, to ensure that the Corps does not needlessly kill hundreds of adult loggerhead sea turtles this spring and summer.

Unfortunately, it remains even more challenging for those of us in coastal Georgia to directly impact the survival of the North American right whale. It’s not possible to organize volunteers and, while there are opportunities to comment on regulations that will impact their survival, like fishing gear and ship speeds, most people feel disconnected from the faraway places where these regulations will be effective and enforced. Yet it’s clear that the species needs our help. If we don’t act now, there will be no future for those 17 calves we are celebrating this year.

That’s why we launched our Eat Local, Not Lobster campaign. We’ve tried to rely on NGO advocacy for silver bullets like litigation and regulatory changes, but those efforts are taking too long. It’s time for all of us who care deeply about right whales to demonstrate to regulators and industry leaders that saving the species is a moral imperative. The best way we can do that, right here in the southeast, is to reduce demand on lobster and snow crab—sending a strong message that developing whale-safe practices is important to us.

I hope you’ll learn more about both issues—and help us take immediate action.

Of course, we’ll keep you updated on both issues and how you can help in the months ahead. Thanks for supporting our work and for all you do!


Change on the Horizon

Earlier this summer, I decided that our family needed a change of scenery. So in July, we embarked on a month long, socially-distanced RV trip across the U.S. But by the third day of watching flat farmland pass by, we were bored. My kids began to wonder if this big adventure was really taking us somewhere interesting after all. Finally, we got to Kansas—one state away from Colorado. I told them that we just had to stick it out.

Everything I had heard about driving through Kansas was that it would feel never-ending. After a day of driving through the wide state, we decided to pull off I-70 to sleep in a state park about 2 hours east of Colorado. Honestly, all I wanted to do was get in, sleep, and get on our way early the next morning.

As we drove in, I had to double check that we were in the right place. The landscape of 100-foot limestone bluffs and the soft pastels of high plains prairie was remarkable and completely unexpected. I’d seen Philip Juras’ prairie paintings, but I don’t think I really believed they could be accurate representations. (Because I know Philip, I should have known better. Click here to see some of his prairie landscapes.)

We ended up staying two days in this place I thought would be a pit stop. We swam, mountain biked, hiked, and—for the first time since our isolation began in March—breathed breaths of contentment and felt excitement about the future. I daresay, hope.

We’d started our trip tired, angry, sad, maybe a little scared—like closed flowers, hunkered down to protect ourselves from the negativity all around us. But over the next few weeks, as we explored deep canyons, wide rivers, hot deserts, and dark skies, we gradually began to open up. Suddenly, we found ourselves racing to see sunrises, talking about nature’s color palettes, and savoring every minute we could spend together. We went from looking down and in to out and around.

And it all started in the most unexpected place—Kansas.

As a society, I feel as if we are all in Kansas right now. Our heads are down. We are angry, sad, tired, and scared. And we just want to get through it. But lately, a few events have compelled us to pick up our heads, look around, and realize that there may be hope on the horizon. Kids are back in school—some virtually and some physically. Leaders are talking about racism, inequality, and the importance of nature—subjects that many have failed to acknowledge for too long. Most notably, there is a major election in two months that will affect leaders on every level.

Although it may not feel like things are changing, they are…

At One Hundred Miles, we are using the lessons learned during this pandemic to become stronger and more sustainable, and to improve the experiences we can offer to our supporters. Over the past few years, we have prioritized the growth of our emergency fund and our membership and advocacy networks so that we can weather lean times. Now, with the onset of a global pandemic in COVID-19, those lean times have come, and we have made important adjustments to our budget—including relocating our offices and changing our fiscal year—that will ensure resources are available to make progress toward our mission.

As we move forward into fall and a new chapter, we hope you’ll join us for the following programs:

  1. Youth Environmental Leadership Program: Applications are now open for the second year of this exciting program! Students will meet throughout the year to launch a coastal action project, serve as ambassadors in their schools and communities, and work with elected representatives to bring about meaningful change for our coast—all while going on behind-the-scenes field trips and meeting scientists and other mentors. We hope you’ll encourage the high school students in your life to apply.
  2. This past summer, with the help of our supporters and partners, we stopped a bad bill that would have allowed DNR to privatize important natural and cultural heritage sites, like Butler Island Plantation in McIntosh County. This is just one example of the need for McIntosh leaders to embrace their heritage rather than hide it. That’s why this fall, we’re partnering with the Sapelo Foundation, the Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor Commission, Friends of Butler Island, the East Coast Greenway Alliance, and others who want to help to help residents and leaders in McIntosh take steps to build a nature and culture-based economy. Please click here to receive more information.
  3. Our 4th annual Coastal Conservation in Action: Choosing to Lead Conference will be held virtually in 2021. We remain dedicated to the same level of programming and amazing speakers, with interactive workshops designed to connect coastal enthusiasts to action. We’re especially excited about the virtual platform because it should allow us to reach more participants and informative presenters than ever before. If you haven’t already, take our survey to help us plan the conference YOU want to see.
  4. Earlier this year, COVID-19 caused the Glynn County Commissioners to press pause on an important update to its 60-year old zoning ordinance. This document protects our water quality, wildlife, and landscapes in Glynn County by outlining what is and is not permitted to be built in various locations. A majority of Glynn County residents value our wild coast, vast landscapes, and abundant wildlife—and OHM is working to make sure that zoning changes improve protections for each of these assets, while enabling our community to grow responsibly. Glynn County is restarting this process in the upcoming weeks. Click here to receive more information about this effort and how you can make your voice heard.

We are grateful to you for remaining committed to our work through this difficult time. I look forward to seeing and hearing from you as we move into the next state (pun intended).

Gratefully yours,

Liberty and Justice For All

Over the past few months, as the flaws in our society have become blindingly apparent, long overdue conversations have been happening every day. Just this week, I’ve discussed racism with my coworkers, family, physician, State Senator, an old friend from high school, and countless others. Some of these conversations have been difficult, but we all agree that Black and Brown Americans deserve to live in a society that offers them opportunities to build wealth and power.

Systemic racism doesn’t mean that everyone in the system is racist. It means that our systems are set up so that decision-making processes exclude and are inaccessible to many sets of people. Most often, those who are excluded and undervalued are those who don’t have an opportunity to speak up. Sometimes this means that they don’t have the opportunity to attend a meeting, but more often, it means that decisions are made within agencies by people who do not represent their interests and never even thought to include them. The problem feeds itself, perpetuating the injustice.

We’re all familiar with the examples of systemic racism within our justice system. Within the environmental sector, easy-to-point-to examples include the delayed clean-up of superfund sites, coal ash, and other harmful pollution. And it’s easy to remember when a major catastrophe like a storm or infrastructure failure (think Flint, Michigan) have affected Black and Brown people who are economically disadvantaged more than others.

These examples are egregious and cause public health and economic hardships that last for generations. But there are other, more subtle instances of systemic racism that can be equally catastrophic over time.

Let me give you an example. Butler Plantation sits on the west side of Highway 17, just south of the bridge to downtown Darien. While the house wasn’t his home, in Pierce Butler’s day, hundreds of enslaved Africans lived on the 2,300-acre property, digging rice fields and cultivating rice. Eventually, more than 400 of them were transported to Savannah and sold in the largest sale of enslaved people in American history.

Today, because of its historic and natural resource value to the state of Georgia, the property is protected and designated as a Heritage Preserve. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is responsible for the property, but descendants of the enslaved use the site regularly. Some have permission to lead tours; others spend time walking the property to feel connected to their ancestors, some of whom are buried on the site.

Unfortunately, the house on the property is in severe disrepair, because the DNR does not have funding to maintain it. A few years ago, DNR staff began to receive inquiries from private entities about the potential for them to use the house for private endeavors— including proposals to turn the structure into a bed and breakfast, brewery, or distillery.

Herein lies the problem.

As a solution, DNR staff—without consulting the community—asked the legislature to change the law that governs all Heritage Preserves. If passed, HB 906 would allow for the sale of up to 15 acres of these public properties to private entities. This change to the law was proposed in the absence of consideration for the people of Georgia, and specifically without input from the descendants of the enslaved Africans who lived on and are buried on Butler Plantation.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that the DNR officials who talked to the developers are racist. But they—like most of us—are working within a system that excludes people. People of color, people living in poverty, people who don’t have a seat at the table and aren’t likely to be given one if we continue to do things the way they’ve always been done.

Because of COVID, the legislative session was suspended. Legislators came back into session last week and will meet until the end of the day Friday, June 26. If HB 906 passes, a private entity would be able to take the home on Butler Island, or any up to 15-acre chunk of any Heritage Preserve in all of Georgia and build a hotel, a golf course, a hunt club, a restaurant, a distillery, a private home—you name it. They’d be able to purchase something that belongs to the people of Georgia and privatize it. As a result, these historical properties would be lost to those who have the biggest stake in their history.

Thanks to our partners and members, legislators have received more than 20,000 comments from more than 2,000 citizens concerned about the impact HB 906 would have on our state’s most treasured sites, and it looks like the bill is dead for this year.

But the bottom line is this: for many people of color, years of inequitable resource allocation, dialogue, and inclusion have blocked safe access to natural and cultural resources. These include clean water, air, and soil, recreational opportunities, healthy fish, and other assets that many of us take for granted. It is the unintended consequences of systemic racism that have crippled disadvantaged people and will continue to cripple them if they are not acknowledged and prevented from happening in the future.

Systemic racism occurs on all levels, in every agency, and across all sectors. One Hundred Miles is committed to working to ensure that environmental agencies at the state and federal levels recognize the inequities that they perpetuate. And in the days, months, and years ahead, we’ll continue to advocate for more inclusive community practices that we hope will begin to correct decades of resulting injustice. I hope you’ll join us.


P.S.  Here is a wonderful piece written by OHM Board Member, Joanna Adams. I hope you enjoy.

The Intersection of Global and Local

One of the things I love the most about Georgia’s coast is that our connection to the rest of the planet isn’t ignored. It is celebrated with the arrival of many different species of wildlife who rely on our coast for survival, including red knots, sea turtles, sharks, and North Atlantic right whales. The migration of these amazing species connects us to the rest of this planet and proves that our local action can most definitely have a global impact.

The spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) is also proof.

Most of us forget that we are part of a global community until we turn on the news or fill up our cars. But, a few weeks ago, our journey on earth brought all of us to the intersection of Local and Global. A global pandemic required massive local action. We live in a world where global events almost never influence where we go on a daily basis, but we jumped into action. More than four billion people are now under lockdown or stay-at-home orders in an effort to influence an outcome that could take months.

To be fair, it was a difficult choice. The global economy is taking a massive hit – one that is unprecedented and for which no one could prepare. But with the spread of COVID-19 causing millions of people to suffer sickness, death, and the loss of loved ones, the choice is clear. Our local communities must work together on a global scale because we cannot stand by and watch the suffering on our doorstep. We are compelled to act.

I can’t help but wonder what all this means for the battle against climate change. Along with you, I have been learning about climate change since the late 1980s. I remember when George H.W. Bush said, “Those who think we are powerless to do anything about the greenhouse effect forget about the ‘White House effect.’” The reality of addressing climate change – curbing carbon emissions which come largely from burning fossil fuels (coal and petroleum) – must have sunk in shortly after his election, because, as you know, his climate action never went any further than that campaign statement in 1988.

Already, climate change has caused homelessness, starvation, economic despair, mass migrations of people and wildlife, disruptions to our food systems, and worldwide suffering. The journey to address climate change requires us to one day reach this same intersection of Local and Global. We aren’t there yet, but we could get there quickly if global leaders, including elected and corporate leaders, would come together like they are doing now and stop claiming that the issue is a hoax or a political plot. This denial causes confusion in local communities about the choices we must make if we want to reverse global temperature increases. The result is that we argue with each other and delay, which does nothing but make more likely the most undesirable outcome, which is human suffering, economic uncertainty, and life in a world where mother nature is more hostile than she needs to be.

People are acting now because global leaders came together around COVID-19 in an unprecedented way. Within a matter of days most everyone understood that we actually could flatten the curve. We all accepted responsibility, had access to the same facts, and an understanding that we’re all in this together.

There was no question that we needed to address COVID-19. It is killing people we love in a few short weeks. Climate change is also killing people, but it’s not a virus that can be identified by a test or an autopsy. It takes its toll on those most vulnerable because of systemic issues many are unwilling to address. So instead of being attributed to the climate crisis, casualties are blamed on poverty, hunger, and the lack of access to healthcare.

Addressing climate change will impact our economy, just like social isolation is currently. The good news about addressing climate change is that, unlike this novel virus, we have been thinking about it for decades. Already, many corporate and elected world leaders are promoting and implementing great ideas and strategies. Flattening the proverbial curve in the battle against climate change will require action on the part of all of us, but the biggest direct difference will be made by the largest polluters – power companies and industries. Therefore, the most important actions we can take as individuals are to support those who are leading the change and point out those who are not.

COVID-19 is changing us. It’s hard to know what our society will look like when we walk out of our front doors at the end of social isolation – whenever that will be. But I hope that during this time of metamorphosis, we emerge with the realization that we are not powerless. Our local actions can make a difference for this entire planet and every person’s choices have an impact. I hope we finally understand what united efforts can achieve and that we must unite more regularly to create the world in which we want to live – one that is more equitable, safe, and sustainable for all.

During this difficult time, I wish you peace and health. I look forward to seeing you on the other side.



I’ve been spending a lot of time in Atlanta lately. Being at the Capitol is funny. At the beginning of each session, my hopefulness and optimism overflow. But, we’re only in our third full week, and already my well is starting to run dry.

The legislative process is chaotic. Just like all of us, on January 1 of any given year, a legislator has high hopes for the upcoming year and sets aggressive goals. When a Senator or Representative talks to me in December, like me, he is excited about the prospects of another session. But as soon as his feet hit the marble floor a few weeks later, the overwhelming pace takes over. He is inundated with requests and information about a myriad of issues—topics on which he may be an expert or about which he may know nothing. Reality sets in regarding the magnitude of work that must be done in only 40 days and his original intentions are often set aside for more practical outcomes.

Forty days is not enough time to solve—or even make a dent in—our state’s very serious problems. And the short time period contributes to a flawed process, which makes serving in public office difficult. But, while we all can call to mind someone whose service seems more to be for him/herself rather than the voters, I strongly believe that most people run for office for the right reasons. It’s just that when you start getting overwhelmed by requests, complaints, ideas, and accusations from members of the public, it’s hard not to put up a wall.

This leads me to contemplate the concept of “leadership.”

Perhaps we assign too much responsibility to our elected “leaders.” Leadership is doing what is hard because it is right. Leaders are expected to pay attention to those whom they represent and prioritize their needs, and to go the extra mile to ensure the safety and well-being of their constituents. But aren’t we setting up for failure the few people in our communities who are elected if we expect them to be our only leaders?

It’s time for all of us to commit to solving community problems – through our own innovation, creativity, and commitment – rather than waiting for someone we elect to office to do so.

Throughout my seven years at OHM and my more than 20 years working in advocacy, I have observed that most leaders never run for office. They work within their communities to make a difference. They pick up trash, plant trees and pull weeds, protect sea turtle and shorebird nests, stuff envelopes, lick stamps, shuttle people to important meetings, and most importantly, they connect with their neighbors and inspire others to get involved. We need elected officials to serve, but we need these local leaders on the ground even more.

Leadership at any level isn’t easy. Sometimes it can feel lonely, and you have to make the choice to take action. That’s why on March 7, we will once again hold our Coastal Conservation in Action: Choosing to Lead conference on Jekyll Island. We design this conference to inspire citizen leaders of all ages, interests, and backgrounds so that participants can learn from and build relationships with others who share their own hopes and optimism.

Just as leadership isn’t one size fits all, this isn’t a conference for any one field or group of people. Our attendees are just as likely to be neighborhood volunteers or concerned citizens as they are professional advocates. We have writers and artists, students and educators, business leaders, volunteers, and everyone in between. Our only requirement? A passion for our coast and a willingness to make a difference.

I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s my favorite day of the year. This will be our fourth annual event, and once again, we’ve assembled a slate of talented workshop leaders from across the country to help you gain new skills and tools to put your ideas into action.

I hope to see you on March 7th—bring a friend, or two!

See you soon,

Georgia Has a Coast?

Georgia has a coast?

Have you seen that bumper sticker? In case you haven’t, it’s attached, along with an article of the same title by local photographer Ben Galland. The joke is that we have this amazing resource that no one knows about—except those of us who understand why everyone else is missing out.

I get it. For so long, our 100-mile coast was Georgia’s best-kept secret. The lack of awareness helped save us from the same fate suffered by other coastal communities to our south and north. While they were building bridges to barrier islands and high rises on beaches, we were protecting our salt marshes and other coastal landscapes from the same fate. Today, we have the least developed coast on the Atlantic.

But the secret is out. Georgia’s coast has been discovered. That means it’s time to stop hiding our resources and step up to claim them—to change the question (Georgia has a coast?) to an expression of pride: Heck yes, Georgia has a coast, and it’s a wonder of the world!

In some places, that’s been easier to do than in others.

Georgia has six coastal counties—11 if you count counties west of 95 that experience tides. The only bridges to islands with beaches are in Glynn and Chatham Counties. These communities are easily identified as coastal because people who live in and visit them can enjoy a waterfront meal, a sunrise on the ocean, and a sea turtle walk. And the converse is also true. Because of a lack of easy access to traditional coastal assets, many of these other communities have struggled to claim coastal identities.

The problem with our current situation is that we look to Hilton Head and Fernandina Beach for economic development advice. But comparing Georgia’s coast to other East Coast communities downplays the significance of everything that sets us apart. A wiser economic development strategy would differentiate our coast, emphasize its uniqueness, and celebrate everything that makes our coast special—not just the traditional connotation of beaches, bars, and babes. Think less Myrtle Beach, SC and more Bar Harbor, ME.

One coastal county, in particular, has struggled more than others. McIntosh County is just far enough away from Savannah, Fort Stewart, and Brunswick and St. Simons to be isolated. It is the only coastal county in Georgia that will lose population by 2050, and county leaders are struggling to avoid this outcome.

In September, One Hundred Miles partnered with the Darien McIntosh County Chamber of Commerce and the McIntosh County Industrial Development Authority to host Ed McMahon as a speaker and economic development strategist. Over the past 25 years, McMahon has helped communities in all 50 states with a wide variety of community planning and economic development issues. His message of “placemaking” is a holistic approach to the planning, design and management of communities. It capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential, with the intention of creating places that promote people’s health, happiness, and well-being.

Placemaking pulls out the important threads that have defined a community throughout time. In McIntosh County, the most obvious assets are the Altamaha River, Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, and the quaint town of Darien. But to build an economic development strategy around those three pieces alone would leave behind a robust set of events that influenced American history, like the presence of the Guale Indians, the early Spanish settlement of Sapelo Island, the construction and use of Fort King George by the British, the influence of the McIntosh family throughout the revolutionary war, and, of course, the effect the slave trade and civil war had on thousands of Africans living in McIntosh County at the time.

That leaves the obvious question: “Where do we start?” Ed says to start small. Different people in every community care about different things. That’s why in January, OHM will begin working with small groups to come up with a list of actions that, when put together, can become attractions and significant events for the town. The goal is to get people’s heads turned toward McIntosh. We will continue to bring in speakers to assist county and town officials on topics like community development grants and policy adoption. If we are successful, in the end, McIntosh County will thrive as a community that embraces its unique coastal assets.

This Thanksgiving, I hope you celebrate the beautiful place we all love and give thanks for everything that makes it special. Thank you for supporting our work and for all you do for our coast.