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Shots fired in marsh buffer battle

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POSTED: August 18, 2014 5:00 p.m.

Why is Director Judson Turner of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) blatantly defying the Georgia Court of Appeals and urging others to follow his lead?
On August 12, 2014 Mr. Turner fired off a memorandum to Local Issuing Authorities and Interested Parties across the state, not only stating that EPD will not be following the recent Georgia Court of Appeals ruling to uphold buffer protections for state waters, but that he recommends Local Issuing Authorities and others do the same.
Why is the very person who should be leading the fight to protect our environment in such a hurry to undermine it?
In April, Mr. Turner launched his initial assault on legal protections for Georgia’s waters when he announced — on Earth Day no less — that his agency will no longer enforce the 25-foot buffer of protection between our coastal wetlands and development unless the required “wrested vegetation” was present. His reason? It is too difficult to enforce.
Yet, for 21 years, according to Susan Shipman, the former director of the Coastal Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, both DNR and EPD “were in lockstep” when it came to understanding how to interpret and enforce the buffer provision. There was no confusion just disappointment.
As former Director Shipman noted, “Imagine my dismay on Earth Day when 20 years of salt marsh protection was vacated.”
In July, a few months after Mr. Turner’s Earth Day gift to developers, the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled in a case that the 25 foot vegetative buffers were required on all waters of the state, including our salt marshes. For a moment, many who understood the value of marsh buffers for protection of property, fresh water and fisheries presumed common sense had prevailed.
Unfortunately it was only a brief respite. Director Turner immediately gave notice of appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court and doubled down on his rhetoric, urging all those who issue permits to ignore the Court of Appeals ruling and take their cues from him.
Once again, confusion reigns. Our sympathies go out to all those who went to work for EPD thinking they were actually working for an agency interested in protecting the environment. That does not seem to be Mr. Turner’s intent.
Rather, the person specifically employed to protect the lakes, streams and coastline in Georgia seems also to be the person most interested in encouraging the kind of development that could irreparably damage those resources.

To sign the petition and more information about restoring protections for Georgia’s state waters, visit www.facebook.com/restorethebuffer

Lucy is Altamaha Riverkeeper & CEO.

 

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