Conservation Groups Lose Challenge to Construction of Destructive Groin on Sea Island

PRESS RELEASE

AUGUST 26, 2016

Contacts:
Steve Caley, GreenLaw Legal Director (404) 659-3122, ext. 222; 678-595-8828(c)

Megan Hinkle, Southern Environmental Law Center, mhinkle@selcga.org, 404-521-9900

Megan Desrosiers, One Hundred Miles Executive Director, megan@onehundredmiles.org, 912-223-8608

Jen Hilburn, Altamaha Riverkeeper Executive Director, jen@altamahariverkeeper.org, 912-441-3908


Conservation Groups Lose Challenge to Construction of Destructive Groin on Sea Island

Atlanta, GA--GreenLaw, representing Altamaha Riverkeeper and Surfrider Foundation, and the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) representing One Hundred Miles, lost their petition challenging the Georgia Shore Protection Committee’s issuance of a permit to Sea Island Acquisition LLC for construction of a groin at the southern end of Sea Island, Georgia.

“It's a sad day for Georgia’s coast, its communities and its wildlife,” said Jen Hilburn, Executive Director of Altamaha Riverkeeper. “We all benefit from the protection of our coastline from encroaching development that lacks the foresight of following the rules that guide those processes. While we disagree with this conclusion, today's decision underscores that we must remain vigilant.

"We are extremely disappointed in this decision,” said Steve Caley, Legal Director of GreenLaw. “Permitting Sea Island to build this groin sets a dangerous precedent for those who enjoy Georgia's unique coastal environment. We provided overwhelming evidence of harm caused by Sea Island's current groins to the environment, especially sea turtles that nest on the island, and that the proposed groin would have the same adverse effects. Since the early 1990s when the Former Sea Island Company constructed the current groins on Sea Island, beachfront downdrift of the groins has shrunk by over 300 feet, and the southern tip of the island has lost 3,000 feet of land.”

Sea Island Acquisition LLC wants to build a 350-foot long rock groin (similar to a jetty) to create a 1,200 foot beach for eight luxury lots on a spit at the southern end of Sea Island, Georgia.

“We are disappointed in the decision, as these types of structures have no place on the Georgia coast,” said One Hundred Miles Executive Director, Megan Desrosiers. “Regardless of today’s outcome, we remain committed to enforcing necessary protections for Georgia’s coastal resources, its wildlife, and the beaches of Sea Island and St. Simons Island that are beloved by locals and visitors alike.”

“Our state agencies must consider how today’s development decisions impact the future, especially in a region like the Georgia coast with great ecological importance,” said Megan Hinkle, staff attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Smart planning is especially important in coastal areas already threatened by erosion and sea level rise, and allowing this poorly planned development to move forward would put Georgia’s coastline at risk.”

In December last year, against the backdrop of opposition from various conservation groups, local residents, elected officials and wildlife officials, the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Shore Protection Committee granted a Shore Protection Act Permit to Sea Island Acquisition LLC to build the groin.

GreenLaw and SELC filed petitions challenging the state panel’s approval. Under the Shore Protection Act, the groups argue that the groin would worsen shoreline erosion by disrupting the natural sand-sharing system on the south end of Sea Island and on St. Simon’ East Beach. In addition, the groups charge that Sea Island Acquisition LLC did not consider a reasonable and preferred statutory alternative, beach nourishment without a groin, that has been used successfully in over 130 beach nourishment projects throughout the southeast in the past ten years.

“This ruling is disappointing, given the overwhelming evidence of harm we presented in this case that the project will cause to the Sea Island coastline – certain, significant erosion, and the resultant loss of habitat for sea turtles and wildlife, and diminished recreational enjoyment for those who surf, kayak, stand-up paddle, and recreate in this area,” said Staley Prom, Surfrider Foundation Legal Associate.

“I’m extremely proud of the legal work by our team on this case,” said David M. Paule, Executive Director of GreenLaw. “The Georgia coast is for the enjoyment of all Georgians, and should not be sacrificed for the profits of a few, out-of-state property owners. Like dominos falling, one groin always necessitates another downdrift. This is basically tantamount to a ‘walling-in’ of the Georgia coast. Other, better proven methods for nourishing the beach exist. Georgian’s who love their coast and want it protected lost today.”

Another grave environmental concern was that a new groin on the south end of Sea Island would negatively impact endangered sea turtle habitats. The groin formation would disrupt adult nesting turtles from getting to the beach and sea turtle hatchlings from making it safely to the sea.

“Altamaha Riverkeeper worked to protect the Sea Island Spit by placing it a conservation easement; we're very proud of that work, but our work does not stop there,” Hilburn observed. “Today's decision will not slow our efforts to protect it from poor decision-making that can create an increased rate of erosion and negatively impact Sea Island and St. Simons Island inhabitants, as well as set a negative precedence for the protection of our coast.”



ABOUT THE GROUPS

GreenLaw As a 501(c)(3) law firm, GreenLaw advocates to preserve Georgia’s unique natural places and enforces compliance with environmental law through the court system. GreenLaw was founded in 1992 by attorneys, law professors, and judges committed to providing community groups in Georgia with the legal and technical tools needed to protect their environment and public health. For more information, please visit www.greenlaw.org. GreenLaw Legal Director Steve Caley represented the petitioners in this appeal.

The Surfrider Foundation is a non-profit environmental organization whose mission is the protection and enjoyment of our ocean, waves, and beaches. Surfrider Foundation’s Georgia Chapter is one of 84 Chapters located around the United States, with approximately 900 members and supporters in the state. The Georgia Chapter is focused on supporting conservation and sustainable use of Georgia's coastal resources.

Altamaha Riverkeeper founded in 1999, is a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection and defense of the Altamaha Watershed – Georgia’s largest river system-- including the Ocmulgee, Oconee, Ohoopee and Altamaha Rivers and Georgia’s southern Golden Isles. Seeking to protect and preserve healthy swimmable, fishable, drinkable waters for our communities and wildlife.

One Hundred Miles is a coastal advocacy organization dedicated to protecting, preserving and enhancing the 100-mile Georgia coast. One Hundred Miles seeks to bring statewide attention to the opportunities and challenges facing Georgia's unique coast.

The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of more than 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use.