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The Georgia Coastal Resources Division (CRD) has proposed amending the state rules and regulations related to the standards and conditions for issuing Coastal Marshlands Protection Act permits. The proposed rule allows CRD to continue to regulate most upland projects but—critically—it drops CRD’s role in regulating upland activity associated with small projects such as private docks and shoreline stabilization projects.
CRD must not abandon oversight of projects that impact the marshes.
For more than 50 years, the landmark Coastal Marshlands Protection Act has protected Georgia’s salt marshes. Since the act was passed in 1970, CRD has been authorized to regulate activities impacting our public marshlands. CRD amended its rules in 2007 to regulate activities in the upland area within 50 feet of the marsh.
These buffers—and the enforcement of these upland rules—are essential to ensuring the health of our marsh and to protecting landowners from flooding and storm damage. Unfortunately, in August, CRD proposed changes to the upland rule that would eliminate their authority to regulate most activities impacting the marsh within the upland buffer area—activities like the construction of bulkheads, private docks, or recreational pools.
The upland projects in question are considered “small” and mostly impact this buffer area, upland of the marsh line. The projects seem inconsequential when considering Georgia’s over 365,000 acres of marshlands. However, the collective disruption or hardening of these buffers will leave our marshlands—and surrounding landowners—vulnerable to deterioration and dysfunction.
After the first public comment period, CRD adjusted their proposal, but the current amendment still leaves marsh buffers unprotected. The current proposal leaves too much uncertainty as to how the buffer will be protected and by whom— weakening protection for our salt marsh and opening the door for new threats that can cause lasting damage.
The Importance of the Marshland Buffer
Coastal Georgia’s marshlands are a signature landscape – a welcome mat for us to come home or to come enjoy our state’s many barrier islands and historic communities. They are an economic engine – supporting coastal GA fisheries, recreation, and growing tourism industry.
Our marshlands are nature’s sponges, absorbing floodwater, dampening storm surge, and filtering pollutants.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shares that coastal wetlands improve property protection by up to 20 percent. NOAA also estimates that coastal communities save $23 billion annually because coastal wetlands shield them from the destructive effects of storms, safeguarding people, property, infrastructure, and agriculture.
The areas behind or upland of our marshes are vitally important as well. These transition zones, which we refer to as “buffers,” are critical to reducing damage to marsh functions and to protecting buildings and development in the uplands. Buffers allow marsh migration as sea levels rise, filter pollutants, and defend our uplands from storm surge.
In Georgia’s dynamic coastal environment, the more natural the buffer area, the better. Living shorelines, for example, are a great method of stabilizing property and enhancing the functionality of the marsh. Bulkheads, on the other hand, function very differently. They are a stabilization method to harden or armor natural transition areas. And by definition, are designed to separate land and sea, eliminating the function of that natural area. CRD’s own guidance document states, “There is a broad scientific consensus that armoring generally degrades the integrity of the marine environment.”