It may be warming up, but edits to the Shore Protection Act are going into the deep freeze until the General Assembly returns to Atlanta next year.
Rep. Jesse Petrea, R-Savannah and the main sponsor of the legislation, asked for the bill to be pulled so as to obtain more input from the public, according to the Savannah Morning News.
Megan Desrosiers, executive director of One Hundred Miles, said those with interest in the legislation should have been involved earlier this year if the bill were to pass in a way preferable to many.
“I think what needs to happen is, over the next eight months, between the end of this session and the beginning of the 2018 convening of the legislature, I think that the stakeholders need to get together and figure out the best way to improve the Shore Protection Act, to make it easier to understand by landowners, and easier to enforce by the DNR,” Desrosiers said.
She continued, “And, more protective of the environment. Whether it’s 150 feet, or whether it’s 50 feet or whatever it is, I think we have to come together. The downfall of it this year was that the bill kind of came out right at the beginning of the session, and a lot of the stakeholders hadn’t been contacted prior to that. Over the next eight months, we all need to learn a lesson and get together before (the start of the next legislative session in January).”
House Bill 271, as it entered the House this year, applied a jurisdictional line of 25 feet inland from the most landward wall, series of rocks, dunes or the high-water mark. It was meant to fix perceived problems of a sawtoothed area of jurisdiction under the act, which when approved in the late 1970s, grandfathered in existing structures and trees of 20 feet tall or higher.
Rep. Jeff Jones, R-St. Simons Island — one of the House members also involved with the bill — was unable to be reached for comment because of travel. The process of how a 2013 50-foot proposal by the state Department of Natural Resources became 25-foot in the bill by 2017 — when environmental advocates wanted 100-150 feet — resulted in some amount of argument during the legislative session.
In a February meeting of the Coastal Advisory Council, Jill Andrews — section chief of coastal management for the DNR Coastal Resources Division, said the bill’s specifications came from state legislators. Later clarifying, CRD Policy Advisor Doug Haymans said it came from work between the CRD and the House.
“The (25-foot) distance from the proposed reference points was recommended by the department after consultation with legislators and representatives of the regulated community,” Haymans said previously.
By the time HB 271 cleared the House on March 3 without a dissenting vote, an amendment allowed for a 100-foot jurisdiction area, but only on public land and only when the most landward feature was the high-water mark. Desrosiers reiterated that it’s preferable that public and private land are treated the same, since storm surge, erosion and other threats occur without regard to whose it is or what name is on the deed, but it was important legislators acknowledged the problems with lack of protection.
“And that space, specifically — 25 feet from the high-water mark — was a lot less, and a lot more dangerous, if you think about the existence of a healthy sand dune, or the existence of a shoreline stabilization structure,” Desrosiers said. “I think if you look at the places on our coast where there is not a sand dune system, or where there’s not shoreline stabilization activity — in those places you’d have to measure from the ordinary high-water mark, and they’re the most-threatened pieces of property for damage from hurricanes, for damage from extraordinary high tides, or just regular erosion that happens every day.”