Georgia Governor signs changes to Shore Protection Act
Gov. Brian Kemp signed amendments to the Shore Protection Act into law Friday. H.B. 445, sponsored in the senate by Republican State Sen. Ben Watson (District 1), prescribes new ways to define the scope of the state’s influence on private beach-front property.
For its first four decades, the law defined the state’s jurisdiction by drawing a zigzag line connecting 20-foot native trees to each other and to shore-front buildings erected in 1979 or earlier. Many agreed this system worked poorly and was hard to administer. The changes create a 25-foot regulated zone between private beachfront development and the landward reach of the sand dune or from the high tide line on beaches without dunes. The 25-foot line is measured from a functional seawall or bulkhead where those exist.
The Shore Protection Act was originally passed in 1979 to protect Georgia’s coastal beaches, dunes and ecosystems from being impacted by human activity.
″(T)he updates made to the Shore Protection Act will help further protect our shoreline with more consistent and clarified boundaries and reduce confusion and unnecessary burdens placed on coastal property owners and businesses,” Watson said in a prepared statement. “We worked with the Department of Natural Resources on this measure and are sure that it will allow for better preservation of our coastline for generations to come.”
Coastal Georgia environmental groups do not share Watson’s enthusiasm for the changes. Several, including the Center for a Sustainable Coast, One Hundred Miles and the Georgia Conservancy, advocated for a wider protected area and one based on readily available scientific data including specific erosion rates along the entire coast. Both North and South Carolina employ erosion rates in their shore protection laws.
“Most people I have talked to about this recognize how foolish it is to weaken the Shore Protection Act,” Center for a Sustainable Coast’s Karen Grainey wrote in an email. “Some have pointed out that we have developed almost all of the beachfront that is available for development, and existing buildings are already too close to the beach. ‘Hasn’t the damage already been done?’ they ask. Yes, but these buildings are in peril for that very reason, and when a hurricane sweeps them away, we need to have a stronger Shore Protection Act in place to avoid repeating the same mistakes. Considering climate change and the inevitability of sea level rise, a genuinely responsible law would be contemplating retreat, but all we are asking is for the law to calculate setbacks using readily available data on erosion rates. The Georgia DNR’s endorsement of this law contradicts the lip service they give to the need to start thinking about making the Georgia coast more resilient to the effects of climate change.”
The Center for a Sustainable Coast collected 460 signatures on a petition opposing the changes. Believing the governor’s signature was not needed for the bill to become law, they hadn’t yet sent the petition to Kemp when he signed the bill Friday.