This past week a number of residents from Bryan County and Richmond Hill attended a workshop sponsored by three organizations dedicated to the preservation of our state’s natural environment and specifically the preservation of our state waters.
Greenlaw, a non-profit legal group, was the primary sponsor. Their mission statement was printed on the cover of the rather thick program. “Giving Georgia’s Environment Its Day in Court”. There in is a large part of the message. If you want common sense and scientific fact to prevail then you have to sue your own government. The system is designed to encourage just that. All you need is money.
In addition to Greenlaw, Ogeechee RiverKeepers was represented by Director Chandra Brown and her associate program director, Dianna Wedincamp.
There was representation from Ford Plantation, Peach Hubbard from the Dolphin Project and Sheila Gailbreath whose endless energy and valuable involvement in community affairs never ceases to amaze me. There were a couple of ladies well versed in the intricacies of managing discharge from wastewater treatment plants. We had at least one retired school teacher and a real estate agent along with representation from the Altamaha RiverKeeper group and county commission hopeful Chris Morse.
There were others, all citizens of our community interested in becoming better informed in matters regarding the health of our natural environment.
It was not a large group but that was by design.
The intent was to provide a select few with some insight into the complexities of the battle to preserve our environment. The idea was for them to in turn, carry the message to others. The presentation, among other things, covered some of the processes utilized by the Georgia DNR and, more specifically, a branch of the DNR, the EPD. If you don’t know what those initials mean then finding out is a good place for you to start if you want to be a part of the effort to preserve our ecological heritage. “Preserve our ecological heritage?”
Does that sound a bit grandiose? It’s not. It’s as uncomplicated as the wood storks feeding on minnows and frogs in the watery spots along 144.
It’s as uncomplicated as the expression on a child’s face when they bring in their first blue shell crabs or catch their first fish. It’s as serious as those little pleasures disappearing from our lives with all of us sitting around wondering “what happened?”
It all has to do with the quality of life -- for us and the generations that will follow.
Our ecological heritage has to do with DNR restrictions on how many crabs you can eat from the North Newport River due to pollution and the world record PCB levels found in sick Dolphins in and around the Turtle River in Brunswick.
Condemn China for their total disregard for environmental concerns? You need look no further than Atlanta, Georgia.
Our ecological heritage starts with clean water and clean air. Water not sullied and sickened by bad farming practices, uncontrolled industrial pollution, poorly designed waste water treatment plants and an indifferent body politic. It has to do with air choking with microscopic particles of coal dust. It has to do with industrial toxins pouring unchecked out of smoke stacks and ground pipes, pitifully governed by weak regulations and minimal enforcement.
The intent of the meeting was, as I mentioned, to provide a few folks with a little more insight into the current fractured, dysfunctional, inefficient and politically smothered system that is charged with protecting our environment. Under our present system it appears that greed is primary factor in the process. Science is secondary or ignored completely. Ignorance of the masses is bliss for the few. “Clean coal”! Get the facts-not a ten-second self-promotional TV ad.
Now the sponsors of the meeting did not say things like that. This was an orderly presentation of a lot of information about procedures and policies. They did mention 10 mercury-producing coal-fired power plants in Georgia and three more on the books to be built at a time when coal-fired plants are completely banned from many states. You could draw your own conclusions. We here on the coast are ‘downstream’ from it all you know.
When I was in the military we would take a team of 10 or 12 dedicated individuals into the middle of an oppressed people and start training the indigents one by one. The ones we trained would continue the pattern. In time we would have an army. This is the same thing. It’s numbers that count... to be more specific - registered voters. We need that army and the overwhelming force it represents to preserve our ecological heritage.
I can tell you that there are a lot of ‘teams’ right now, manned by people dedicated to the preservation of your quality of life. What they are not getting is your support. It’s that simple. We are all too busy earning a living and just getting through life. We all need to re-visit our priorities, re-assess our values and maybe make a few changes.
Our greatest enemies are apathy, misinformation and lack of information. We need to quit judging our political leadership by their three-second sound bites, carefully worded to say nothing. We need to look a lot harder at where their interests lie and what they have accomplished, or more importantly, not accomplished where our environment is concerned. “Oh he is very interested in our coast”. I want to throw up.
People often ask me. “What can I do”? I usually fail them miserably in my answer. I think I know why. The subject matter is more complicated than most of us, myself included, can ever comprehend. I have to remind myself of the old adage, “the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time”. When we begin to understand that, we begin to better appreciate the dedication of people like Chandra and Dianna from RiverKeepers and Patrick Ryan, the UGA law school graduate who has dedicated his time and talent to pursuing the legal aspects of defending our environment. We begin to better appreciate the lifetime of dedication that scientists give to the intricate processes of their research.
The question remains: “why is protecting our environment such a challenge”? I have never talked to a politician who did not tell me it was at least near the top of his agenda. I have never talked to a developer who has not assured me that his system will work, his development will not only preserve the environment, it will enhance it! I have never talked to a city father or engineer whose waste water treatment plant was not state of the art.
You know who brings a different message? Scientists bring a different message. People who really know what they are talking about and generally have little or no ax to grind other than personal pride in their scientific accomplishments. They always seem to have a concerned look and a troubled tone of voice when they are discussing our environmental future. The fact of the matter is that we do have a very dark cloud on the environmental horizon, especially if we continue in our same patterns.
How can you help? How can you find out if you even agree with the process? Google - ‘Ogeechee RiverKeepers’, Savannah Riverkeepers’ or ‘Altamaha Riverkeepers’. Google ‘Clean Coast’. Google ‘The Dolphin Project’. Google ‘Skidaway Institute of Oceanography’. Google ‘Center for a Sustainable Coast’.
Join up! They need the money and they will put it to good use. You don’t even have to join to get their informational e-mails.
Go to www.marex.uga.edu. It’s the University of Georgia Marine Extension Service. Explore programs for you and the kids.
Try Googling “riparian buffers”. Read about them and ask yourself why the state of Georgia does not demand such applications by every stream bed, pond, lake and river.
Take the time and join the rising tide of concerned citizens of Georgia who are going to take back their right to a healthy environment. Your personal rewards and the gift you give your children will be tenfold for your effort.
Richmond Hill resident Hubbard is a retired green beret. He and his wife Peach are actively involved in a number of environmental activities, including The Dolphin Project.