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State EPD cancels wastewater permit on Marsh Hammock
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The Georgia Environmental Protection Division reversed its decision to allow a wastewater permit on a small island slated for the development. The agency admitted they made an error in granting a proposed treatment facility to accommodate the development of 18 vacation homes on an 8.4-acre Union Island in McIntosh County.
"It was a mistake. The permit should never have been issued because the system that would spray treated waste onto the land would have been in an area subject to high water," said Jeff Larson, assistant chief for EPD's Watershed Protection branch.
"We reviewed the permit application and its design and did not catch its location in a 100-year flood plain," Larson said.
In May, attorneys from the Southern Environmental Law Center representing the Altamaha Riverkeeper, appealed EPD's issuance of the permit based on expert opinions that the system would not properly treat the wastewater before it entered the groundwater, the marsh, and the estuarine system, thereby threatening the marsh and the surrounding waters on the small marsh hammock. Furthermore, the permit could have opened the way to future such developments and wastewater systems on marsh hammocks previously considered off-limits to development.
"8,0000 gallons, the amount of water proposed for the system, is too large for the size of the drainage field available on Union Island," said SELC attorney Adam Kron. "The soil is sandy and porous and the water table is only 3 feet beneath the surface. In addition, the flooding from tides and storms would have made it likely the sewage would have gotten into the groundwater and pristine marsh."
"This decision marks a victory! Georgia's priceless salt marsh estuary system deserves the best regulation, and we are pleased that in this case the state has done the right thing," said Deborah Sheppard, executive director of Altamaha Riverkeeper. "New developments are being planned and constructed in sensitive tidal and freshwater wetland areas without proper evaluation of wastewater management and we are glad that EPD recognized the need to re-evaluate the system."

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