pluff mud slinging

If it’s hard, their solution is to just not do it. Maybe it’s only Republicans in Georgia that react that way. Jack Kingston, who’s now seeking a seat in the United States Senate, the gentleman’s club, complained bitterly when the Democractic Speaker of the House decreed that that body would be in session five days a week. More recently, Kingston has been joined by Judson Turner, the Director of the state’s Environmental Protection Division, who determined that protecting the marshes from pollution and sediment intrusion was just too hard and just wrote the whole thing off.

One gets the sense that Turner, a Nathan Deal appointee is not just lazy but daft. Who in his right mind would want to piss off the whole coastal region, the one part of the state that reliably votes Republican, in an election year?

Image: Bloody Marsh St. east of Simons Island by Ralph Daily

So, former public officials and editorial writers weigh in:

Susan Shipman: Former DNR official — New rule will harm Georgia’s iconic salt marshes

Posted: May 25, 2014 – 12:46am


‘I urge state legislators on both sides of the aisle to work together to re-establish the protections that our iconic and renowned coastal marshes deserve.’

Georgia’s coast is blessed with some of the most extensive salt marshes in the nation. Although our state has only 100 miles of coastline, Georgia stewards roughly one-third of the salt marsh on the East coast.

Why protect what our founding fathers viewed as buggy, boggy landscape not good for much anything?

Salt marshes provide invaluable services:

• They filter contaminated sediments, provide a water-based highway for commerce and host myriad recreational activities.

• Marshes also provide crucial habitat for threatened and endangered species; and, they serve as the nursery grounds, shelter, and food source for 75 percent of the commercially and recreationally important fish, crustaceans, and shellfish.

• The salt marsh-upland transitional zone is an important nesting ground for osprey, painted buntings, and diamondback terrapins.

• Of paramount importance to coastal residents, salt marshes buffer the mainland from flooding and storm surge.

• A quick look through the real estate listings affirms that a marsh vista also has tremendous aesthetic and economic value.

In 1975, the Georgia General Assembly passed the Erosion and Sedimentation Act to protect state water quality. The Act requires the establishment of a 25-foot vegetative buffer to protect waters of the state from runoff carrying silt, pollutants and contaminants.

Imagine my dismay on Earth Day when 20 years of salt marsh protection was vacated.

The EPD’s new policy pertaining to buffers on the high ground adjacent to salt marsh revolves around the definition of “wrested” — i.e., “twisted” or “pulled away” — vegetation, a term found in the Erosion & Sedimentation Act.

According to the new directive, a buffer shall not be established if an obvious erosional bank with wrested vegetation is not present. This new method for implementing the Erosion and Sedimentation Act ignores the reality that storm tides, winds and waves can wrest vegetation from a gently sloping marsh upland interface.

This directive leaves the hundreds of thousands of acres of Georgia’s salt marsh vulnerable to the same contamination the Erosion and Sedimentation Act was written to prevent.

The Georgia General Assembly has the opportunity during the next legislative session to end the buffer debate once and for all. The coast’s economic engine, sense of place and coastal lifestyle depend on the health and well being of our salt marsh.

Protection of our coastal marshlands is a non-partisan issue. I urge state legislators on both sides of the aisle to work together to re-establish the protections that our iconic and renowned coastal marshes deserve.

Susan Shipman is the former director of the Coastal Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. She retired in 2009 after working 31 years with the DNR and lives on St. Simons Island.

And from the Savannah Morning News:

Editorial: Coastal counties must do the EPD’s job

Posted: May 24, 2014 – 10:53pm | Updated: May 25, 2014 – 12:57am

STATE LEADERS in far-off Atlanta may think it’s OK to strip away protections from Georgia’s salt marshes, which help shield the coast from floods and hurricanes and are critical to the success of the state’s fishing, crabbing and shrimping industries.

But here in Chatham County, this stuff is personal. We’re protecting our own.

Other coastal counties should follow suit.

When state Environmental Protection Division Judson Turner — an appointee of Gov. Nathal Deal — issued an ill-conceived memo on Earth Day last month that will leave coastal Georgia and its marsh more exposed and less protected, many feared the powers-that-be at the state capitol had the final word.

Fortunately, that’s not the case. Chatham County’s marsh buffer remains firmly in place.

In a memo issued May 8, County Environmental Program Coordinator Jefferson Kirkland reiterated the county’s requirement of a 35-foot vegetated buffer on most marsh-front properties.

“Fundamentally, the memorandum released by Georgia Department of Natural Resources, EPD, does not change the way Chatham County determines the presence and locations of the above described buffers,” he wrote.

Mr. Turner’s missive to the coast from the state EPD office instructed local authorities on how to enforce the state’s Erosion & Sediment Control Act. That act requires a minimum of a 25-foot vegetated buffer between the marsh and uplands. In a major change of state policy that dates back to 1993, Mr. Turner said the EPD would no longer enforce the 25-foot-rule in places where rapidly moving water prevented vegetation from growing along a bank.

That meant it was open season on development in some coastal areas, as far as officials in Atlanta concerned.

Mr. Turner’s memo was disappointing and out-of-touch. But frankly, it’s no surprise, as the EPD has behaved more like a lapdog than watchdog.

It was three years ago this weekend, along a placid stretch of the Ogeechee River northwest of Savannah, that Georgia suffered its worse fish kill in history. The investigation into the King America Finishing textile plant in Screven County, which dumped its effluent into the river, revealed an agency that was unwilling or incapable of pro-actively protecting public resources from harm.

But who needs the EPD? If the state agency won’t do its job, then individual Georgia counties must step up and impose their own buffer rules to protect public resources.

In Chatham County’s case, the local requirement will help shield at least 66,000 acres of salt marsh from potential danger. That’s roughly 17 percent of the total 378,000 acres of marsh on the coast. If county leaders in McIntosh, Glynn and Camden followed Chatham’s lead, then more of that acreage would be protected. The EPD’s ridiculous memo would be rendered meaningless.

Score one for the so-called “State of Chatham.” This is one of those times when it’s good to see responsible, local leaders taking care of the public’s business.

The proponents of “small government” and local control are often disingenuous control freaks who rationalize that smaller jurisdictions are easier to dominate. They often get their way because it is a matter of fact that the residents of an area or region are more familiar with environmental peculiarities and more capable of managing them effectively and efficiently. But, when the emphasis is on dominion or the exercise of political power — i.e. the control of the human population — the environment stands a good chance of being wasted to advantage some privileged group.

In this case, it would seem that forestry and logging interests, having depleted the resources, have decided to transform themselves into Real Estate Investment Trusts, which depend on even more drainage of the wetlands than tree growers imposed on the coastal plain. So, instead of accommodating the natural environment with detention and retention basins, they’re looking to maximize their profit by dedicating every square inch to turf and asphalt and concrete impoundments (swimming pools).

I got a call today from the Ocean Conservancy, which wants to blame the decrease of fish in the oceans on over-fishing. I couldn’t resist observing that the reason the fish population has decreased is because the ocean waters have been poisoned by pesticide and herbicide run-off and industrial contamination and the marsh nurseries have been destroyed.

Editor's Note: This story also appeared at Image: Bloody Marsh St. east of Simons Island by Ralph Daily via his flickr photo stream and used under a creative commons license.

Monica Smith

Monica Smith writes Hannah's Blog. Born in Germany, she came to the United States as a child, living first in California, then after an interval in Chile, in New York. Married to a retired professor at the University of Florida, where she lived for 17 years, she moved to St. Simons Island, Georgia, in 1993 and now divides her time between Georgia and New Hampshire. (New Hampshire, she says, is always interesting during a presidential election.) She and her husband have three children and five grandchildren. Ms. Smith says she "learned long ago that I am not a good team player when I got hired at the Library of Congress, fresh out of college with a degree in political science and proficiency in four foreign languages, to 'edit' library cards and informed my supervisor that if she was going to insist I punch the clock exactly on time, my productivity was going to fall from being the highest to being the same as everyone else's. The supervisor opted to assign me to another building where there was no time-clock. After I had the first of our three children, I decided a paycheck wasn't worth the hassle."