Following the 2016 Annual Conference and Forestry Expo, and as the Association looks to close out its calendar year, the GFA legislative team has remained focused on protecting forestry assets and businesses in Georgia, connecting members with resources and relationships, and empowering them for the future. The following issues are critical to the forestry community in Georgia, and therefore are a priority for the Association’s advocacy efforts.
Local Bans on Wood as a Construction Material
Following the lead of Dunwoody and Chamblee, the north Atlanta city of Sandy Springs recently passed a building code amendment that proposed a code amendment that requires developers to use steel or concrete materials in any building or structure over three stories and exceeding 100,000 square feet. This will effectively ban the use of wood in those types of buildings. Despite GFA’s meetings with Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul, letters to the city council and a testimony provided at the city council meeting, the amendment was passed.
Now three northern metro Atlanta cities – Sandy Springs, Dunwoody and Chamblee – have passed ordinances limiting the use of wood in commercial construction, and there are rumors that several more are considering similar legislation. GFA is highly focused on developing a strategy to address the issue from a statewide perspective, limiting cities and municipalities from creating such product bans. Until a more solidified strategy is determined from a legislative perspective, the Association is working to utilize the opportunity to educate business, political and community leaders about the safety, performance and sustainability of wood as a building product – and the importance of working forests to metro Atlantans. GFA will continue to provide updates and opportunities to take action as this issue progresses.
Forest Land Protection Act (FLPA) Amendments
In November 2008, the GFA’s successful constitutional amendment campaign made effective the Forest Land Protection Act of 2008 (HB 1211). The legislation lifted a huge tax burden from Georgia’s forest landowners, creating a property valuation classification of forestland to expand the conservation use valuation assessment program (CUVA) created in 1990. According to the Department of Revenue (DOR), in 2015, there were more than 9,000 parcels in 140 counties participating in FLPA.
Each year, the state is required to provide local assistance grants to counties, school boards and cities to offset a portion of the property tax revenue lost from FLPA. Land in the program is valued using the same conservation use tables established by DOR, and land values cannot increase by more than three percent annually. The law, a constitutional amendment, also provides a specific formula for calculating the assistance grant payments to the counties by requiring the use of 2008 as the base year for fair market value of forest land as a starting point. Under the law, no government entity may decrease that value of forestland without enactment and ratification of a constitutional amendment. However, in July, DOR announced that it would change the formula for calculating forestland fair market value, which resulted in a reduction to the grants provided to certain counties, school boards and cities.
After a letter was sent by Rep. Gerald Greene to Attorney General Sam Olens asking for an official opinion on the constitutionality of the administrative change, DOR reversed its course and announced that it would continue to calculate forestland value as directed by law.
Although DOR reversed course, the State remains concerned with the formula for calculating grant payments. GFA is aware of discussions to amend FLPA to address these concerns. Stay tuned! This issue will continue to be a very high priority for GFA.
Georgia Forestry Commission Equipment Bonds
The Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC) has many responsibilities, but its most critical mission is protecting the state’s 22 million acres of private, commercially available forestland against destruction from fire and disease. In order to achieve this mission, GFC depends on heavy equipment and aircraft to detect, access and suppress fires. Unfortunately, the agency is well behind on its schedule to replace equipment and is in need of funding to support mission-critical services.
Compared to Florida, the GFC has twice as many privately forested acres (22 million versus 11 million) but operates with nearly 40 percent fewer firefighters (380 versus 630). While both state forestry commissions have the same number of equipment pieces to fight wildfires (375), each piece of equipment in Georgia covers an average of 59,350 acres of privately owned forest per unit as compared to 29,860 acres of privately owned forest per unit in Florida. Simply stated, Georgia’s citizens may be proud that across the Southeast, GFC is one of the most cost-efficient and streamlined forestry agencies. However, we cannot jeopardize the timber asset that supplies nearly 13 percent of the state’s manufacturing sector by continuing to neglect the Commission’s equipment needs. GFC needs strong support from our legislators and the Governor to provide funds that will allow the Commission to begin renewing its fleet.
Pipeline Study Commission Finalized
Passed by the Georgia General Assembly and signed by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal earlier this year, House Bill 1036 established a moratorium on petroleum pipelines in Georgia until July 2017, suspended the use of eminent domain powers for a private company, and created a study commission to review the future use of eminent domain and the environmental impacts of pipelines. According to the law, the State Commission on Petroleum Pipelines should include:
- three members of the State House of Representatives appointed by the Speaker of the House;
- three members of the State Senate to be appointed by the President of the Senate;
- the director of the Environmental Protection Division of the Department of Natural Resources or his or her designee;
- the commissioner of community affairs or his or her designee; and
- five members to be appointed by the Governor, including one member who shall represent the petroleum industry and four members who shall represent a cross section of the interests of local government, business, agriculture and conservation.
Pursuant to HB 1036, Governor Deal recently finalized appointments to the Commission, which is responsible for recommending changes to the way the state evaluates petroleum pipelines. The commission has until Dec. 31, 2016, to hold a maximum of five hearings to “conduct a detailed study to ensure the exercise of eminent domain powers by petroleum pipelines is carried out in a prudent and responsible manner consistent with this state’s essential public interests.”
Event dates are set for:
- Thursday, October 20
Savannah, GA | Armstrong State University Center
- Thursday, November 3
- Thursday, November 17
Members of the Commission include:
- Ryan Chandler
Vice President, Colonial Group
- Robert Ramsay
President, Georgia Conservancy
- Wade Hall
President and CEO, Stuckey Timberland, Inc.
- Brian Nipper
President of Nipper Construction Company, Inc., and Mayor of the City of Odum
- Mike Clanton
Vice President of Land Department,
- Bill Hitchens, R-Rincon, co-chair
- Barry Fleming, R-Harlem
- Al Williams, D-Midway
- Rick Jeffares, R-McDonough
- Jack Hill, R-Reidsville
- Frank Ginn, R-Danielsville
- Richard Dunn, Director, Environmental Protection Division (or his designee)
- Camila Knowles, Commissioner, Department of Community Affairs (or her designee)