With more than 7.7 million acres of wetlands in Georgia, landowners and users need to know what a wetland is and what can happen if work is commenced without knowledge of the law.
Any time you move earth to alter the drainage pattern of land, wetland regulations and permitting should come to mind. Penalties for wetland violations can be costly, and involve daily fines, restoration costs, and even criminal prosecution. If you participate in federal programs, any cost sharing or payments received will have to be repaid to the government agency.
Identifying wetlands require agency assistance
Georgia has a wide variety of landscapes, so wetlands will look very different depending on which part of the state you are located. Some are freshwater, and some are tidal. For example, the Georgia Planning Act defines non forested emergent, scrub, shrub, forested, and altered wetlands, just to name a few. If you think you know which areas meet the definition of wetlands, you are wrong. You need the appropriate state or federal agency to define those areas for you prior to commencing any activity, or you are courting future trouble.
Both state and federal law
Georgia’s wetlands are regulated under state and federal laws. Most of the definitions match those in federal law. However, there are state and local laws that must be reviewed to ensure you remain in compliance. Georgia’s overall goal is no net loss of wetlands. Before you break ground or remove vegetation that can change the hydrology of the landscape, you will need to obtain a permit from the appropriate agency. You will contact different agencies depending on whether it is freshwater versus coastal.
Freshwater and coastal wetland permitting agencies
Freshwater wetlands are regulated by the Environmental Protection Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and uses a § 401 water quality certification process for permitting. The Georgia Coastal Marshlands Protection Act is an entirely separate permitting process for tidal wetlands. The Georgia Coastal Resources Division is responsible for issuing marsh permits when any sediment is removed, moved or added to a tidal area. You must obtain a permit from this agency prior to building or relocating structures. Furthermore, regardless of whether it is for recreation or commercial purposes, all activity requiring waterfront access requires completion of the permitting process.
To avoid future lawsuits and expensive fines, be sure to consult with an attorney experienced in environmental regulations, and contact the proper state or federal agency prior to altering the landscape or building structures, even in remote areas.