Dear Senator Harper,
On behalf of the Center for a Sustainable Coast, I ask that when HB 906 is assigned to your committee, you postpone action until next year’s session. There is not enough time remaining in this year’s session for legislators to give this bill the attention needed to adequately consider remedies correcting the significant problems that both environmentalists and historic preservationists have identified.
While the bill purports to address the unresolved challenge of decaying historic structures owned by Georgia DNR, HB 906 does not specify that the Heritage Preserve properties conveyed to private entities must contain historic structures or provide enforceable requirements for restoring and maintaining them. Nor does the bill define the restrictions that would apply to the conservation easements. We also question the DNR’s capacity to strictly enforce these easements.
Additional concerns include essential but omitted language that would prevent the devious use of multiple land transfers to circumvent the fifteen-acre size limit or ensure that purchasers would pay a fair price to Georgia taxpayers.
As written, the bill is riddled with loopholes that endanger the integrity of Georgia’s Heritage Preserves. To better serve the Georgia public, please devote time and effort to consult with historic preservationists and land conservationists before moving forward on this critical issue.
Karen Grainey Center for a Sustainable Coast
President Jimmy Carter Opposes HB 906 Threat to Privatize Ossabaw Island, other Heritage Preserves
OSSABAW ISLAND, GA -- On June 15, former president Jimmy Carter released a letter urging state leaders “to halt any further consideration of HB 906,” a bill currently in the Georgia General Assembly that “would breach the commitments made to [Georgians] who have conveyed land to the state as Heritage Preserves.” His letter is attached.
House Bill 906 provides a vehicle for portions of Heritage Preserves across Georgia to be sold in 15-acre parcels to private developers, with very few restrictions. HB 906 removes the decision-making for these sales from the General Assembly and delegates responsibility solely to the DNR board and the State Properties Commission.
This bill will open up over 335,000 acres of Heritage Preserve property in Georgia for potential private development. It will apply to 122 of Georgia’s most valuable and popular wilderness areas, most sacred and important historic and cultural sites, and most beloved public hunting and fishing grounds.
Ossabaw Island, in Chatham County on the Georgia coast, was the first Heritage Preserve, established in 1978 when the Torrey-West family sold the 26,000-acre island to the state for half its appraised value, in part because of commitments made by the state that Ossabaw would be “held by the state in trust for the benefit of the present and future generations of the people of the state of Georgia.”
Here is a sampling of the Heritage Preserve-protected properties across Georgia that will be “open for business” if HB906 passes:
Chattahoochee Bend State Park
Watson Mill Bridge State Park
Laura S. Walker State Park
General Coffee State Park
Pickett's Mill Battlefield State Historic Site
Providence Canyon State Conservation Park
Tallulah Gorge State Park
Little Tybee and Cabbage Islands
Wormsloe State Historic Site
Altamaha WMA (Includes Butler Island)
Ohoopee Mounds Natural Area
Dahlonega Courthouse Gold Museum
Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site
The Ossabaw Island Foundation opposes HB 906 because of its threat to Ossabaw Island’s perpetual preservation of public ownership, solely for natural, scientific and cultural education, research and study. We are grateful to President Carter for his commitment to Ossabaw and all Heritage Preserves in Georgia.