From January to April, you can find OHM staff members under the Gold Dome advocating for our coast. We spend the months calling legislators to the ropes, testifying at committee meetings, and convening with our partners in the Georgia Water Coalition. We’ve been busy at work, visiting the Statehouse and working with state and local leaders on legislation to protect our coast.
Click here to read our Issues Newsletter with updates on some of the bills we fought for and against, as well as other challenges facing our coast. You can also subscribe to our print and electronic mailings and receive the latest updates as they happen.
Okefenokee Protection Act
House Bill 71
In 2018, Twin Pines Minerals, LLC, submitted an application to the Georgia EPD to secure permission to extract titanium through heavy mineral sand mining along the eastern boundary of the Okefenokee Swamp known as Trail Ridge.
Trail Ridge is an ancient coastline running parallel to our coast and serves as the natural barrier that keeps water in the swamp. From the beginning, OHM has worked to prevent this permit from being granted. If we are successful getting the Twin Pines permit denied, land on Trail Ridge will still be open to future mining threats.
In an effort to prevent future mining threats, Rep. Darlene Taylor reintroduced the Okefenokee Protection Act (HB 71) to ban mining from Trail Ridge. This bill received fantastic bipartisan support, with over 50% of legislators co-sponsoring.
The Okefenokee Protection Act would not have an impact on the existing permit application to mine 600 acres adjacent to the swamp, but it would ban any expansion of the mine and existing mining proposals.
House Bill 71 did not make it through Crossover Day, but it is not dead yet. Continue to encourage your state leaders to support this bill!
Sapelo Island Heritage Authority
House Bill 273
House Bill 273 directly impacts the historic community of Hog Hummock on Sapelo Island and the Sapelo Island Heritage Authority (SIHA) that was created to hold land on Sapelo in the interest of preserving the island’s Gullah Geechee culture and environment.
The bill, written by Rep. Buddy DeLoach (with no consultation to the people of Hog Hummock), seeks to change the composition of the SIHA board. Three NGOs on Sapelo—the Hog Hammock Community Foundation, SOLO, and SICARS—spoke out in opposition to the bill, as the language used was not specific enough.
These organizations proposed changes that would protect the descendants of Hogg Hummock from disenfranchisement and assure they have a say in important decisions. They asked that “resident” be clarified to “resident descendant” and that the governor appointee to the board be an elected official or state authority to ensure accountability to the people. Both amendments passed through the Senate. When the bill reached the House, the latter amendment was removed. Due to this change, the bill failed to pass during this legislative session.
Crown Grant Salt Marsh Bill
House Bill 370
A bill originally introduced into the Georgia House last year was resurrected this legislative session. If passed, it would have made it easier to privatize Georgia’s salt marsh. Currently, the State of Georgia owns all of the salt marsh on our coast unless a landowner can prove that he or she holds an in tact Crown Grant from the King of England.
While a few crown grants still exist, any new claims to having a grant to our salt marsh must be verified by the Georgia Attorney General. Crown grant certification by the AG can take 3-5 years. This is because 250 years of documentation is understandably difficult to decipher, comprehend, and verify.
Further compounding the issue, nearly all crown grants contain unique stipulations which, if violated, nullify the grant. Examples of the stipulations include sustained rice cultivation, livestock grazing, and a commitment that all generations of male family members serve in the military. Hence, today private ownership of marshland is rare.
While we are all for private property rights, it is in the best interest of all Georgians to only give our ownership of salt marsh away when there is absolute certainty that the private rights exist. This bill shifts the burden of proof away from the petitioner and onto the state, forcing them to make irreversible decisions in an unreasonably short period of time (180 days). If the state fails to meet these shortened deadlines, the Kings Grant will be certified by default.
Thanks to pressure from folks like you, House Bill 370 did not make it through Crossover Day.
Development Authorities: Permit for Virtual Meetings
Senate Bill 26
Development Authorities (DA) are the largest governing bodies in Georgia. They were legislatively created in the 1940’s as an avenue for municipalities to fund public infrastructure and negotiate growth to create an economically vibrant community. While DA’s are overseen by the Department of Community Affairs, little is known about DA budgets, training—even how many exist in the state of Georgia.
In 2022, the Georgia Senate passed SR 809, establishing a study committee to investigate the conditions, needs issues, and functional problems with the local DA’s. OHM staff followed the proceedings carefully. The study committee’s final report includes recommendations for further legislation regarding procedural items but initially the only action was to create a Joint Study Committee (not yet fulfilled).
Development Authorities have responded to the increased scrutiny by lobbying for a Senate Bill 26. SB 26 would allow DA’s—entities already operating in shadow—to hold their meetings entirely online. The bill claims that the virtual meetings will be open to the public and advertised in the county legal organ (located in the local newspaper); considering the DA’s have not historically posted meeting information on their agency website, the true accessibility of virtual meetings is in question.