On Feb. 18, a group of citizens headed to the State Capital for “Conservation Day,” hoping to inform legislators about protecting our precious coast and its wildlife. The Dolphin Project was represented by Gerry Sattele and me, from Richmond Hill, and Chris Hines of Savannah.
The event was coordinated by the Georgia Water Coalition and our bus was sponsored by 100Miles.org, an organization dedicated to protecting Georgia’s coast. We joined Georgia’s Riverkeepers, Garden Clubs, the Sierra Club and other environmentalists. The three main topics for the day were aquifer storage and recovery, the marsh buffer reinstatement and offshore drilling in our coastal waters.
We were able to speak to several legislators by breaking down into smaller groups. Thanks to Megan Desrosiers of 100Miles, many of Georgia’s legislators are informed about the issues affecting our coast.
The small group I was in spoke with Sen. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah. I was impressed with his knowledge of the coast and its problems. Further contacts by our group were Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, Sen. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, and Senator Russ Tolleson, R-Perry.
Aquifer storage and recovery
ASR is the practice of injecting chemically treated wastewater, surface water or groundwater into an aquifer with the intent to withdraw it later. We already know what this ‘treated’ wastewater does to fish and other marine life. It alters hormones and causes intersexism. Injected into the aquifer, it can do the same to us.
Since 1999, the General Assembly repeatedly imposed a moratorium on ASR to protect drinking water in coastal Georgia. However, in 2014 that protection was lost because the moratorium expired. Fortunately, several legislators across South Georgia have recognized this mistake. To resolve the situation, they introduced SB 36 and HB 116 to institute a permanent ban of ASR on the Georgia coast.
Over the past month, the Bryan and Brantley county commissions, and the Liberty Regional Water Resources Council have passed three resolutions opposing ASR into the Floridan Aquifer.
Action needed: Please contact Tolleson and ask him to prepare his bill for a committee vote as soon as possible. Thank the senators and representatives who introduced SB36 or HB116 for their willingness to protect the Floridan Aquifer. Encourage other legislators to support the bills.
On Earth Day 2014, EPD Director Jud Turner removed buffer protections from coastal marshlands. The Erosion and Sedimentation Act requires a 25-foot buffer along our waterways, including coastal wetlands. Buffers protect our waterways and wetlands from contaminated runoff and harmful development. This decision eliminates one of the most effective strategies for preserving our saltmarshes. It is also in violation of the Erosion and Sedimentation Act and is a direct assault on coast.
SB 101 establishes a 25-foot buffer in the Erosion and Sedimentation Act to protect marshlands. While 25-feet is inadequate, it’s a start.
Action needed: Ask your lawmakers to support a marsh buffer bill that defines maintenance; does not include blanket exemptions for maintenance projects or for federally permitted projects and limits the bulkhead exemption. Also call Gov. Nathan Deal, (404) 656-1776 or contact him through his website, to ask him to reverse this decision. You can also call EPD’s Jud Turner at (404) 656-4713, or send him an email to ask that he reverse this decision.
Oil and gas drilling
The Obama administration has issued preliminary permits to companies to explore for oil and gas off our coast. These permits will open the door to eventual drilling. In January, the US Department of Interior Bureau of Ocean Energy Management released its plan to sell leases off Georgia. This 5-year plan estimates that only minimal deposits of oil and gas are available off Georgia, only enough to meet domestic demand for less than a month!
A vessel will tow a seismic airgun, which shoots loud blasts of compressed air through the ocean and miles under the seafloor – every ten seconds, 24-hours a day weeks on end, for up to twelve years off the Eastern seaboard from Virginia to Georgia. The U.S. Department of Interior states that seismic testing can cause permanent hearing loss, affecting whales, dolphins, sea turtles and fish; in addition to abandonment of habitat, disruption of mating and feeding, causing beach stranding and death. It also states that seismic testing will cause the displacement of commercially valuable species and decrease of catch rates for coastal fisheries.
Our coast supports a nearly $2 billion tourism industry, while our fisheries contribute upwards of $600 million to Georgia’s state economy. Coastal Georgia’s communities from Tybee to St. Mary’s have built a strong economic base around tourism, recreation and fisheries. If we allow oil and gas development off our coast, we are turning our backs on the existing economic and environmental advantages our coastal communities have worked hard to build.
The federal proposal to drill represents a fundamental threat to the people, wildlife and natural resources that make Georgia a special place to live and work. Georgia doesn’t need the gas and oil wells. It doesn’t need a disaster like the one BP left in the Gulf in 2010. Marine life in still dying there. Thousands of acres of marsh there will never be recovered – destroyed forever.
BOEM scheduled public meetings about drilling for all states involved, except Georgia. Sen. Jackson agreed to contact BOEM about arranging a meeting here.
Action needed: Learn what’s at stake and share this information with your family and friends. Contact your representatives. Our elected officials must engage with the federal agencies in this issue. Call or email your lawmakers to let him know your concerns. BOEM is accepting comments on the proposal through March 30. Write a letter or attend a public meeting to discuss the agency’s plans. No meetings are currently scheduled in Georgia so join us in Charleston on March 11. For talking points and carpool options, contact Alice Keys: 912-264-111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Details on the draft proposal, public options and next steps can be found at: http://www.boem.gov/five-year-program-2017-2022/#comments.