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Court of Appeals decision affirms protection for salt water marshes

Buffering is an important aspect of maintaining clean waterways. A buffer, as some readers may know, consists of a band of permanent vegetation around a stream or wetland which has the purpose of preventing erosion and filtering contamination from rainwater runoff, as well as purification of bacteria and pathogens. Protecting salt marshes from pollution is an important environmental goal, since they provide a rich habitat for wildlife and even support the state economy.

Under a state law passed in 1975, the Erosion and Sedimentation Act, various measures were implemented to support and protect salt marshes, including the establishment of 25-foot buffer zones around certain waters throughout the state. Up until recently, salt marshes were included among these protected waters. Earlier this year, though, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division issued a directive which effectively removed the requirement of a protective buffer for salt water marshes.

The decision was not a popular one among environmentalists, who complained that the directive put thousands of acres of marshes across the state at risk for pollution and that this was contrary to the intent of the Erosion and Sedimentation Act. Fortunately, the directive was repudiated by a recent Georgia Court of Appeals ruling, which said the buffer requirement applies to all state waters, including marshes.

The decision, as some have already pointed out, is a good one for the state because of the benefits salt water marshes provide. Indirectly, it also sends a message about the importance of being good stewards of the environment. That, after all, was part of the vision of the Erosion and Sedimentation Act. 

Source: Savannah Morning News, "Court decision revives Georgia coastal marsh buffer," Mary Landers, July 18, 2014. Saporta Report, "Court of Appeals' ruling protects Georgia's marshes; let's hope state leaders will do the same next year," John Sibley, July 27, 2014. 

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