Our Marsh Matters:The journey to restore our marsh buffer.
Our marsh matters! We are proud to report that our work to restore the 25-foot salt marsh buffer has paid off! The Marsh Buffer Bill (SB101) received final passage by the Georgia Senate on March 27, 2015.
Thanks to you, Georgia’s marsh buffer has been restored!
One year ago – last April – the Director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD), announced that his agency would no longer require a 25-foot buffer to protect our coastal salt marsh against soil erosion runoff from construction sites. His action evoked the ire of citizens, conservation groups, and private sector partners concerned about the consequences for our coast’s most precious natural resource – our salt marsh.
Immediately, One Hundred Miles stepped into a leadership position and began working with our conservation partners, the EPD, and others across the state to restore the buffer. We worked on three fronts. First, we educated the public about the consequences of removing the buffer protection. Second, we helped to craft language to clarify the buffer provision’s application to our coastal salt marsh. Third, we lobbied for the passage of a comprehensive bill.
Our education/public involvement strategy required us to work with the media, give presentations to garden clubs and other service and social groups, and craft a social media campaign that would both distribute information and provide a community dialogue about this issue.
The results of this campaign were staggering: we built a network of thousands of people across the state who emailed, wrote letters to, or telephoned EPD Director Judson Turner and Governor Nathan Deal. Our activists wrote letters to the editor and opinion pieces, and informed radio and news stories across the state, and participated in our “Marshie” social media campaign. This community dialogue to restore the buffer was overwhelmingly supportive and evident from the moment negotiations began.
In May of 2014, One Hundred Miles, the EPD, coastal legislators, and entities representing development interests began negotiations. These conversations took place over the course of five to six months. In November, we agreed on language that would establish a separate provision in the Erosion and Sedimentation Act. A provision that was specifically written to apply to our coastal salt marsh. EPD and One Hundred Miles worked together to educate legislators and conservation groups about the language. In December, representatives from the EPD and One Hundred Miles gave a joint presentation to the House Natural Resources Committee about the language. It was our goal to see the language introduced by a coastal legislator and quickly passed.
Unfortunately, when the session began in January, Senator Ben Watson (R-Savannah) decided to introduce different, less restrictive language. Leaders in the House and Senate intervened and insisted that he host a stakeholder meeting prior to filing a bill. At a January meeting in 2015, One Hundred Miles, Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), and the Georgia Conservancy represented the conservation community. Though this process resulted in a better bill than he initially intended to introduce, the language to which Senator Watson agreed was still significantly flawed. We continued to ask for changes but were not given the opportunity to review the final language before he filed the bill. This put us in the unfortunate position of having to advocate for small but significant amendments to the bill.