The legislators making up the Coastal Caucus in the General Assembly agreed on Thursday, Jan. 15, to add legal requirements for a 25-foot buffer of undisturbed land around saltwater marshes, putting long-standing state policy into the law.
Since 1994, the Environmental Protection Division has required the buffers or insisted on a variance with other safeguards even though the wording in the law only deals with freshwater marshes. Officials from Chatham County objected to the policy since the law didn’t require it, and the attorney general agreed. So the EPD notified local governments April 22.
Other local governments have also bristled at the expensive mitigation measures needed for development when a variance is issued.
Sen. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, said environmentalists, state and local government officials have been in discussions since April when the EPD notice stirred controversy over a legislative remedy.
“I think we’re all on board, whether you’re EPD or private property owners or a conservationist,” he said.
At issue was whether the law requires a buffer when there is no “wrested vegetation,” or the absence of plants along a water body’s bank due to waves or stream action. The law calls for buffers 25 feet from where plants were wrested away shorelines, but the water in marshes is too calm to wash away plants.
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The GFA Government Affairs Team will continue to monitor this issue and provide updates in regular Capitol Forestry Reports throughout the legislative session.