While the proposed shoreline project on Sea Island has battled against heated environmentalist opposition to gain state approval, the application to build a new beach on the resort island has sat stagnant at the next level.
Sea Island Acquisition must still get approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before it can begin work on the project, which calls for constructing a T-shaped rock groin extending 350 feet into the surf to bolster an eroded beach on the island’s southern end. The company submitted the plans to the Corps of Engineers in January, immediately after getting permission from the state Shoreline Protection Committee last December.
However, the Corps of Engineers “administratively withdrew” the application last spring, a move prompted by a lack of response from Sea Island Acquisition to the federal agency’s request for additional information, said Corps spokesman Billy Birdwell. The application is presently inactive at the Corps of Engineers’ level, meaning no action is being taken to consider it further.
However, Corps officials can reactivate the application if Sea Island Acquisition submits its response to their questions and requests that it be reopened, Birdwell said.
“It’s basically in suspension,” Birdwell said. “They just didn’t meet the deadline. They could come back and say, here’s the information you asked for — please reactivate this application. We’ll pick up right where we left off and start again.”
Sea Island Acquisition received approval from the state Shoreline Protection Committee in December. That approval came against overwhelming objection from environmental groups and St. Simons Island residents who argued that the plan will damage wildlife habitat and erode beaches to the south. The company wants to construct the proposed rock groin 1,200 feet to the south of an existing rock groin, then fill the space in between with some 100,000 cubic yards of sand. The new beach would protect a planned development of eight oceanfront luxury homes from erosion.
Sea Island then submitted the plans to Corps of Engineers in January — about the same time that two local environmental advocacy groups appealed the Shoreline Protection Committee’s decision to the Office of State Administrative Hearings. But judge Kristin Miller ruled in favor of Sea Island in August, after hearing a week’s worth of testimony in May at Brunswick’s Old City Hall, followed by closing arguments in Atlanta in July.
The Southern Environmental Law Center and the group GreenLaw submitted an appeal of Miller’s decision to Fulton County Superior Court on Monday. The appeal requests a “judicial review” of the decision. However, the action has no legal power to further halt the project at the state level, said Bill Sapp, an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center.
“From a state perspective, it’s not on hold,” he said.
The Corps of Engineers’ approval process is the only remaining hurdle Sea Island Acquisition needs to clear in order to begin work on the project. The Corps has not allowed construction of a shoreline rock groin since the late 1980s. That is when the agency approved construction of Sea Island’s existing groin.
And the corps has plenty of questions about the proposed new groin on Sea Island. The bulk of those queries are based on input from the masses who have opposed the project from the beginning. Some 173 individuals or organizations responded to the Corps’ request for public input back in January, almost of all voicing opposition to the project.
Among other things, the Corps of Engineers wants to know what alternatives have been considered and what impacts the project will have on the public, the environment and surrounding wildlife. Sea Island officials must also present the Corps with “a signed waiver from the state of Georgia agreeing the work will not change Georgia’s seaward boundary.”
The Corps of Engineers initially submitted its questions to Sea Island Acquisition on March 24. After resort officials did not respond to the questions within 30 days, the Corps of Engineers “administratively withdrew” the application.
Scott Steilen, Sea Island Acquisition’s President and Chief Executive Officer, said the company is in the process of preparing a response.
“This is standard in the permit review process of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” Steilen said. “We are preparing the information requested by the Corps. and we will submit it soon.”