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.


Uncertain Future

A few weeks ago, I sat down to send you an optimistic note about how our coast dodged a few bullets this summer. I soon realized I wasn’t feeling positive after all, and couldn’t finish.

Even though Hurricane Dorian only skirted by us, it was hard to celebrate with more than 600 people still missing, hundreds dead, and the Bahamas decimated. Shortly thereafter, the Coast Guard began reporting “massive discharges” of oil into St. Simons Sound from the overturned Golden Ray cargo ship. And at the beginning of October, another pod of pilot whales beached on Georgia’s coast, this time on St. Catherines. But instead of only a few casualties (like the earlier stranding this summer on SSI), this pod lost at least 10 whales.

The angst that stopped me from finishing that earlier email to you is this: At this point, officials, community members, and decision makers on Georgia’s coast are only responding – and sometimes not all that well – to each individual crisis as it comes. That’s because it’s easier for us to assume that these incidents are isolated and unrelated. But we must realize that they are not.

Neither Dorian nor the Golden Ray caused the pilot whales to strand, but it is possible that human behavior stressed the whales to the extent that most of the pod was lost. This incident serves as a cruel reminder that the population of approximately 400 North Atlantic right whales lost six individuals in June alone. Ship strikes, entanglements, ocean noise, and plastic pollution are all results of human behavior that are pushing these gentle giants towards extinction within our lifetimes. Of those individuals that are left, many can be identified by visible scars from previous ship strikes. Unfortunately, instead of taking coordinated, active steps to improve mortality rates, those responsible fight regulations and cross their fingers when they are in right whale territory. Click here for more information.

Similarly, warmer oceans are causing hurricanes to become stronger. When it hit the Bahamas, Dorian was a Category 5 storm with winds of more than 180 mph. Compounding the damage, the people of the Bahamas were not prepared. While we don’t live on an isolated island in the Caribbean, it is clear to me that coastal Georgia’s built environment would have been equally decimated had we been the direct hit. Yet we live in denial, and our communities are not taking steps to prepare any better. In September, a planning firm hired by Glynn County released a diagnostic report, the preceding document to a revised zoning ordinance. Instead of overhauling the 60-year old ordinance, which was written before we knew about climate change, sea level rise, and the effects of poor planning on coastal communities, the county is only pursuing a few revisions. The report contains no mention of updating building codes, better storm preparation, or sea level rise. Click here for more information about storms and building codes in hurricane-prone areas.

As for the Golden Ray… the Port of Brunswick has been in operation since 1789 – that’s  230 years. President George Washington established our port to be one of the five main ports of entry to the United States. Today it is the second-busiest roll on/roll off port in the nation, bringing in more than 600,000 cars annually (2017). Yet, it appears that both the shipping company (Hyundai Glovis) and the Port of Brunswick inspector may have failed to ensure that the Golden Ray was trimmed properly before it left for Baltimore. When the ship tipped, there was no emergency response plan to deal with the removal of the ship or leaking oil. This left officials in the position of having to rely – during an active investigation – on a potentially negligent party (Hyundai Glovis), whose best interest is to protect itself and its shareholders instead of the well-being of the people, wildlife, and economy of the Golden Isles. No one knows how much oil contaminates our sound, but at least 10 miles of oiled shoreline have been documented. Fishing charters, kayak rentals, vacations to St. Simons, and other economic opportunities for Golden Isles businesses to capture tourism dollars eliminated while the weather is still warm have been canceled and otherwise unavailable to businesses and individuals who rely on them.

These events are often classified in the public eye as unintended consequences of human behavior. But we have to realize that, while we didn’t intend our behavior to cause catastrophic damage to habitat, wildlife, and communities, it has done so.

We must be better prepared to deal with the consequences of our actions. The first step is to acknowledge that we live in a new world – one that was not even imagined in 1789 when George Washington created the Port of Brunswick or in 1959 when Glynn County adopted its first and current zoning ordinance. It is easy to assume that OHM takes positions on projects because we don’t want anything to change. The reality is that we want everything to change.

At One Hundred Miles, we work every day to help people understand that the choice between economic development and environmental conservation is false. In fact, the two are intricately connected. Employers and employees will not relocate to a place that is struggling with its identity, has an uncertain vision for the future, and is in denial about the threats it currently faces. That’s because we all want to know that our water and air will be clean, the places we love will exist for our children and grandchildren, and that our local government has our best interests in mind when approving development plans.

It is time for our society to stop conquering and/or living apart from our environment and realize that we are part of a complicated system that we both influence and by which we are influenced.

Once we accept these realities, we can effect change quickly, because the most important decisions are made locally. The elected officials you see in the grocery store, at church, and when you drop the kids off at school are the people who seal our fate. They approve development plans, assign dollars for infrastructure improvements, and otherwise have the power to either prepare us or ignore the problems. One Hundred Miles is effective because we know these people and we help you know them. We communicate with them, but more importantly, we give you the opportunity to connect with them. And you do.

So, despite my earlier trepidation, I do have hope for the future. We can absolutely change our course by participating in the decisions that are being made. As we prepare for a future with sea level rise and increased threats to our wildlife and landscapes, we’re counting on you to pay attention to the decisions being made, communicate with decision-makers, and vote for people who will ensure a stable future.

Now is the time for change. And it starts with people who have a stake in the future – in other words, all of us. Thank you for your efforts and your commitment to saving our coast. We need you.


Looking Forward to Fall

Coastal Georgians have a love/hate relationship with summer.

(Re: things we love, see this NY Times article about this year’s record sea turtle nesting rates. Re: things we hate, see this video of actor Will Smith ranting about our mosquitoes.)

My favorite part of summer is seeing all the families, friends, adults, children, old, and young people, black, brown, and white, spending time together outside. Sure, we take advantage of our friendly climate all year ‘round. But summer offers us all a slower, less-scheduled pace. With kids out of school, family boat trips, beach days, and neighborhood cookouts happen more often. And those shared experiences with those closest to us in this place we call home quickly become the most cherished memories of our lives.

These experiences are so important to the conservation of Georgia’s coast—because we won’t protect what we don’t love.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the past few months and the memories you and your families, neighbors, and friends have made together. As we transition into the hustle and bustle of fall (where has the time gone?!), I encourage you to reflect on these special moments and what our coast means to you.

At One Hundred  Miles, we want to do everything we can to share our coast’s special places and experiences with you, no matter what the season. This fall, we have an exciting slate of opportunities for you to spend time outside with old friends and new, to learn more about Georgia’s coast and experience its splendor.

I’m looking forward to our new dinner series, Salt Marsh Table. Through these intimate dinner parties, we celebrate the intersection of food in our culture, history, and the complex ecosystem of our salt marshes. The events will be crafted by incredible local chefs and hosted at iconic locations along our coast. I can’t wait and hope you will join me! If you have any questions about Salt Marsh Table, please contact Kate Grinalds at [email protected].

As always, our popular Nature and the Arts and Naturalist 101 monthly programs will help you better understand our coastal resources and learn how to take action. Don’t miss upcoming lectures and fieldtrips on coastal Georgia fisheries, pollinators, and alligator tracking in the Okefenokee Swamp. Or try your hand at watercolor painting, sweetgrass basket weaving, nature photo books, and glass coral bowl making. And stay tuned…we’re currently designing our 2020 calendar of programs, with a full slate of innovative offerings, including our new “Families in Nature” series. (Hoping to see a particular program or topic offered? Email your suggestions to the education team at[email protected].)

And though it’s hard to believe now, in the mid-August heat, 2020 is just around the corner. Save the date and mark your calendars for Saturday, March 7th, 2020, when our 4th annual Coastal Conservation in Action: Choosing to Lead conference returns to Jekyll Island. We’re working to make next year’s conference our biggest and best yet—and we can’t wait for you to see what we have in store.

So, as the weather cools and schedules get busy again, please know that you can always turn to OHM for opportunities for you and your loved ones to learn, get outside, and explore. In fact, we expect you to. That’s what we’re here for!!!

I hope to see you out there!


Megan Desrosiers, CEO
One Hundred Miles