Is the coast important to Liberty County?
It would not seem so given the action of the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission (LCPC) which on January 21, 2020 voted three to two to recommend approval of a zoning amendment that will allow development of a 130 acre property along the South Newport River. The developer has zeroed in on the riverside area at Exit 67 of I-95 and plans to build a 230-pad RV park and additions. The environmental risks are terrible, undeniable, and the prospect for financial success suspends common sense. For instance, the developer claimed that $22 million of new tax base will result from selling temporary parking pads to luxury RV owners, but he provided no evidence to support this perplexing outcome.
A multitude of legal and planning concerns were presented to the LCPC, yet only two commissioners took a stand for the coast.
As most know, the South Newport River is the county’s southern boundary beginning at the LeConte-Woodmanston Plantation site near Riceboro and running for twenty air miles to the Atlantic Ocean. It is one of two estuaries in the county named in the 2040 Joint Comprehensive Plan as being the “most significant natural resources” in Liberty County. According to a Liberty planning commissioner, this document is the sole policy directive for county planning purposes for issues in the river basin.
So what does the adopted comprehensive plan provide? Among a lot of things, it clearly states that our coast is to be cherished. It requires that the county “ensures that development does not compromise the distinct rural character”, and that “new development shall be discouraged in flood plains, flood prone areas and coastal high hazard areas”. The proposed development is within a high-risk flood zone (Zone AE), and would require costly infrastructure such as water and sewer mains to be extended miles to the property at taxpayer expense, thus creating a framework to further sacrifice rural, coastal character.
Regarding water quality, the plan states the county is to consider stormwater run-off as a priority and to enforce rules that protect water from pollution. Consider that the project is essentially a huge parking lot and streets fronting three-quarters of a mile of river. And generally, the plan sets forth that the county should “preserve green space” and “protect environmentally sensitive areas”. This is the plan that the county references as showing its environmental stewardship when soliciting relocation prospects and government grants, yet how does the majority action of the LCPC demonstrate commitment to the plan?
The minutes of the LCPC meeting will reflect that none of the aforementioned policy criteria were adequately addressed by the commission or developer. In advance of the meeting, the LCPC was provided with a petition of opposition from residents abutting the property, and two analysis documents explaining numerous project risks. These risks include loss of wildlife habitat from debris blown or flooded into the marsh, river pollution impacting downstream oyster farming, and the USDA soil report identifying the site as useless for most purposes such as roads, buildings and septic drainage. In turn, the main response was that one commission member suggested that if fishing were spoiled, then “find another fish drop”.
So, is the coast important to Liberty County?
The rezoning decision is up for approval by the County Board of Commissioners on February 4, 2020. In 2011, the commission provided our organization with a resolution in support of preserving and protecting the South Newport River and Georgia’s coastline. With that help, we secured a DNR grant to build the floating dock at Route 17 which so many folks seem to enjoy. Hopefully, concerned citizens and the Commission will affirm that the coast is important more than ever and reject the RV park zoning amendment.
Robert G. Emerson, III, President
Friends of South Newport River, Inc.
Townsend, GA 31331