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Environmentalists win lawsuit

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POSTED: July 28, 2007 5:03 a.m.
Two environmental organizations won a landmark lawsuit against a state agency.
The Altamaha and Satilla Riverkeepers proved the Brunswick Environmental Protection Division failed to protect the coastal marshes by granting a buffer variance to the developer of the Brunswick Landing Marina on Aiken Island, Altamaha Riverkeeper Deborah Shepphard said.
Along Georgia’s coast, there is a jurisdictional line that separates the upland from the marsh, and the developer, James Torras Sr., asked the EPD to push the line farther out (or to grant a buffer variance) in order for him to extend the coast of Aiken Island, she said.
To the surprise of the riverkeepers, the EPD granted the variance that allowed Torras to bulldoze and dump 126 loads of topsoil into the marsh that, in essence, acted as a detrimental pollutant to the nearby ecosystem, Shepphard said.
But Brunswick EPD Director Darryl Crosby contended Torras was taking necessary steps to stabilize the slope of the island, and that’s why they granted the variance.
The riverkeepers appealed the EPD’s decision, and the EPD fought right back and challenged the riverkeepers’ right to sue, Sheppard said.
“It was a disgusting and vindictive act on the part of the EPD, and it cost us thousands of additional dollars to continue with the lawsuit,” she said.
“(Administrative law Judge John Gatto) felt the developer did not do enough to protect the buffer, and (Gatto) believed that we should not have issued the variance,” Crosby said. “Yet the work has already been completed, so I’m not quite sure what will happen next.”
Shepphard said the variance should have never been issued because the developer was able to dump dirt in a site that was filled by the tide twice a day; so it should have been an uncomplicated exercise in practicality to make the right decision.
Since a buffer variance has never been reversed, the riverkeepers are conferring with their attorneys to find out how they can take advantage of the ruling to further protect the environment, Shepphard said.
 

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