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Supreme Court to decide on salt water marsh buffer issue

Earlier this week, the state Supreme Court heard arguments in a case involving the question of how large salt water marsh buffers must be under state law, and whether they are even required at all. What gave rise to the legal tangle is a Grady County fishing lake project. We’ve previously written about this issue, which involves a state law prescribing a 25-foot buffer zone around certain types of waters statewide. Salt water marshes had, until recently, been required to have such buffers, but the Georgia Environmental Protection Division removed the requirement earlier this year.

Environmentalists reacted negatively to the change in policy on the basis that the thousands of acres of salt water marshland across the state of Georgia would risk increased pollution without the buffers. The Georgia Court of Appeals struck down the Georgia EPD’s directive and reinstated the buffer requirement. That is the decision that is now on appeal to the Supreme Court. 

According to the Environmental Protection Division, state law only requires buffers for waters where there is “wrested vegetation,” which is the point at which fast-moving water prevents vegetation from growing. The EPD argues that, because wrested vegetation is not a problem for salt water marshes, the law didn’t intend buffers to be established for them.

A decision isn’t expected for several months, but way the court handles the buffer question is important because of the widespread impact it will have on waters across the state. It isn’t clear from sources how extensive the impact will be on Georgians themselves, but environmentalists hope to see a decision in favor of buffering. We will keep our readers updated on this case.

Source:, “Georgia high court hears arguments on law establishing buffers along rivers and wetlands,” Walter C. Jones, Jan. 5, 2015. 

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