While the odds favor H.B. 271’s passage in the General Assembly, the sand could be shifting out from the Shore Protection Act measure’s support.

The SPA’s nearly 38-year-old specifications led to the law not performing up to what was intended, which is to preserve the natural sand-sharing system of the coast while allowing for coexistence of private property development and other activity. Instead, representatives from the state Department of Natural Resources and the bill’s supporters said what resulted was a sawtoothed area of jurisdictional enforcement, as some needed areas weren’t covered while some others, like parking lots built before 1979, were.

In 2013, a series of discussions led to the DNR suggesting a 50-foot jurisdictional area, extending landward from the furthest landward high-water mark, dune or crest of a wall or rock revetment. There was some amount of dissatisfaction from activists about that line, and more when the bill debuted with a 25-foot jurisdictional area.

“In 2013, (DNR Coastal Resources Division Director) Spud (Woodward) proposed a 50-foot … area to be included in the Shore Protection Act,” Steve Willis of the Georgia Sierra Club said in the Feb. 9 meeting of the Coastal Advisory Council. “And today we’re proposing 25 feet. Most environmental groups recommend 100 to 150 for coastal shore protection purposes. And so, what happened exactly that a 50-foot proposal became a 25-foot proposal? That’s one answer we’d like to have.”

David Kyler, director of Center for a Sustainable Coast, sent a letter to the Environmental Quality Subcommittee of the state House Natural Resources and Environment Committee for its hearing Wednesday advocating for a much larger jurisdictional area.

“With growing erosion rates, now averaging more than a foot a year, and accelerating rise in sea-level, coastal geologists say that a minimum of 100 feet is needed — which would leave an undeveloped area of about 30 feet along the shoreline after SPA-approved development,” Kyler wrote. “Moreover, when Georgia’s DNR proposed similar rule revisions in 2013, they recommended a 50-foot jurisdiction, double the width now being considered.

“Since then, DNR ‘experts’ have changed their advice without explanation or citing any scientific evidence, despite extensive erosion research underscoring the risks of shoreline development.”

Fred Marland, a marine scientist and former marsh and beach director for DNR, said in a lengthy letter Tuesday to the House Natural Resources Committee that H.B. 271 is misguided and it would be better to form a study committee to formulate and implement a more comprehensive and effective strategy to protect high-tide beaches.

“The DNR proposition argues for simplicity of application — a worthy aim,” Marland wrote. “The logical points of DNR while quick and simple actually will almost nullify an already-weakened Shore Protection Act. A home built under this bill too close to the sea, once destroyed, will want to rebuild on the same footprint. After a storm even this will cost taxpayers large sums.

“Unlike other states, in Georgia there are no houses falling into the sea. The shoreline law has helped protect and conserve our coastline for (almost 38) years since April 1979. Simple is good but the anatomy of the earth does not always lend itself to predictability and simplicity. There is common sense of a house or tree that has survived for decades vs. an arbitrary line of unknown starting point that is not site specific.”

Tybee Island City Councilman Paul Wolff said at the CAC meeting that shoreline development on South Carolina’s Daufuskie Island resulted in serious property loss following Hurricane Matthew.

“I was on Daufuskie a few weeks ago and after Matthew there are million-dollar lots that are gone — literally gone — and the houses behind those lots have been undercut and are now being condemned, and they are in excess of a million dollars,” Wolff said. “There’s a whole community of them.”

He suggested one path to take for shore protection could be local ordinances instead of relying on statewide legislation.

As for Willis’ question for how a 50-foot proposal became 25 feet, it was a process.

“I believe that is a function of the bill’s sponsor (Rep. Jesse Petrea, R-Savannah) and the legislators that are adopting it,” Jill Andrews, section chief of coastal management for the CRD, said at the CAC meeting.

In a Tuesday story in the Savannah Morning News, Petrea said the proposal came from DNR. Doug Haymans, policy advisor for CRD, said Friday it’s a little bit of both.

“The (25-foot) distance from the proposed reference points was recommended by the department after consultation with legislators and representatives of the regulated community,” Haymans said.

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