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Coast will be in hands of new governor

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POSTED: October 18, 2010 8:36 p.m.
If most Georgians hope to ensure a future quality of life at least equal to that of the past, it is clear that government accountability must improve.
Over the past decade, on the coast we have witnessed thousands of acres of projects built along marshes and shorelines with far too little attention paid to enforcing state laws meant to protect valued and vulnerable natural resources. The accumulating impacts degrade treasured marsh vistas and are a threat to healthy habitat for birds, fish and marine species, some of which are endangered.
Beyond the coast, but definitely affecting us downstream, Georgia officials have taken willful steps to weaken safeguards on critical fishery habitats, such as trout streams, as well as reducing buffers on intermittent streams that are essential to maintaining water quality after heavy rains.
As Georgians ponder the election of our next governor in light of such dubious decisions, the environmental consequences of new appointments to key state policy and permitting bodies must be carefully considered. Save Georgia’s Coast members are doing exactly that, and we invite Georgia voters to do the same.
We are a collaboration of 11 nonprofit groups serving the public interest of Georgians who live in and visit the region, and who value the beauty, diversity and uniqueness of the state’s coastal resources – marshes, beaches, rivers and estuaries.
The appointments that we are most concerned about are those that Georgia’s future governor will make to the state Board of Natural Resources and the combined Coastal Marshlands Protection and Shore Protection committees.
All of these bodies have weighty responsibilities under Georgia law in defining the path of environmental protections on the Coast. Yet, over the past 10 years, only one environmental scientist and very few environmental advocates have been given the opportunity to serve on any of these bodies.
If appointees are unbiased and truly qualified to evaluate the impacts of proposed permits and regulatory rule revisions, they can help improve the protection of Georgia’s environment.
This is especially true along the coast, where threats to marshes and ocean shorelines are mounting. In the past five years alone, combined, the largest coastal projects cumulatively proposed over 160,000 new housing units, plus extensive commercial development.
Thus, the members of Save Georgia’s Coast would like to see the future governor appoint at least one environmental scientist and one qualified member of an environmental advocacy organization to the Department of Natural Resources board and the two coastal permitting committees as positions become available.
Recently, these issues have been made even more significant by severe budget cuts at DNR – epitomized in the Coastal Resources Division, which suffered the greatest reduction of all, some 50 percent. With lower budgets and less staff time available, decisions by appointed bodies will be made with even less professional guidance. Having qualified people as appointees will help compensate.
Also, by gaining the influence of more qualified individuals in making decisions about Georgia’s environment, legal disputes can be expected to decrease, saving taxpayers money. Most agree that existing laws will provide adequate protection if they are properly administered, but unless regulations are interpreted and rigorously applied, the quality of Georgia’s natural resources will suffer.
Both candidates for governor, Republican Nathan Deal and Democrat Roy Barnes, have replied with general statements about their intention to appoint well-qualified individuals who will help balance these state environmental bodies. Though such remarks are encouraging, we strongly urge Georgians to continue pressing the candidates for specific commitments to make appointments consistent with the objectives of Save Georgia’s Coast.
Ideally, we hope that concerned voters will secure commitments from both candidates regarding these appointments, to which the next governor can be held accountable, no matter who is elected. In this endeavor, Save Georgia’s Coast has the full support of our combined members, numbering in thousands of individuals, businesses and families.
By confronting candidates for Georgia’s highest executive office with the importance of making qualified appointments, it is our aim to advance the performance of state government beyond the status quo, achieving new levels of accountability to the public.
At the very least we intend to elevate the question of political appointments in the minds of voters and tax-payers to elect – and hold accountable – a more responsive state administration.
We feel that now is the time for achieving these advancements, and this year’s election can take us across an important threshold. Please join us in making that happen.
To see what else Save Georgia’s Coast is doing, please visit us at www.save-georgias-coast.org.

Kyler submitted this column on behalf of Save Georgia’s Coast.
 

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