Coastal Preservation, Legal
March 18 2015

Settlement to Save Sea Island Spit in Georgia

by Angela Howe

Environmental groups in Georgia fought for land conservation on a fragile spit of coastal property and won a land use easement for 80 acres of protected coastal land. Through a settlement agreement with Sea Island Company, brokered by environmental attorneys at GreenLaw, representing Altamaha Riverkeeper, Center for a Sustainable Coast and the Georgia chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, eight houses will be built on the island's Cloister Reserve development but 90% of the area will be preserved as undeveloped in perpetuity.

In addition to establishing a conservation easement over the remaining 90% of the remaining land, the settlement agreement requires environmental monitoring of the coastal geography, including a study of the changing coastline and sand supply patterns in this region of Georgia.  The Sea Island Company is required to pay $250,000 to support such work. This will provide Surfrider Foundation, and the environmental community as a whole, enhanced knowledge and insight into the dynamic coastal marsh system, and how to better protect it for generations to come, according to Chapter Chair Clay Davidson.  The settlement allows for independent monitoring of all construction and land disturbing activities related to the development of the Cloister Reserve to insure compliance with legal protections of the marsh, beach, and dunes under the Coastal Marshlands Protection Act, the Shore Protection Act, and local county laws. 

Additionally, the settlement allows for funding for the St. Simons Land Trust oversight of the easement and other beneficial restrictions on the use of the property in order to protect sensitive bird and sea turtle habitat (i.e. lighting restrictions and pet restrictions). The settlement agreement also requires low-impact development features for stormwater flow on the Cloister Reserve, including permeable parking areas and driveways. Finally, enviornmental groups preserved the right to monitor and challenge any beach nourishment or shoreline stabilization projects on the island, which will also be informed by the coastline study funded through this settlement.

The Surfrider Foundation Georgia Chapter worked for over a year on this proposed lawsuit and settlement, including outreach to members, the general public and county commissioners to provide education on this important coastal issue. Surfrider Foundation would like to especially thank GreenLaw for their donation of thousands of hours of pro bono time on this matter on behalf of the enviornmental groups and protection of our coastal environment.

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