“At a point where smart planning is more critical than ever to protect our coastal resources, it defies common sense to develop pristine coastal areas for the benefit of a few landowners to the detriment of shoreline health, wildlife habitat and public access to Georgia’s beloved beaches. It’s important to adopt a reasonable approach that balances the public interest and private rights—this project fails to strike that balance.”— Steve Combs, Chairperson Surfrider Foundation Georgia
Developers are once again trying to develop a fragile, eroding part of the south tip of Sea Island called the Spit. In 2015, the Surfrider Foundation Georgia Chapter worked with Altahama Riverkeeper and GreenLaw to prevent the issuance of building permits on this ecologically sensitive and important parcel of land on the Georgia Coast. This 2015 campaign culminated in a lawsuit settlement that preserved 90% of the sea island spit area, including over 80 acres in a land conservation easement and funding for a five-year study on the coastal erosion and sand supply system in this part of coastal Georgia.
Most recently, the developers have revived a proposal to install a groin on Sea Island. As part of the 2015 settlement, the chapter and fellow plaintiffs reserved the right to challenge any beach nourishment or shoreline stabilization project. The chapter and its allies maintain that placing a groin at the south end of the island would further exacerbate erosion downcoast of the groin, resulting in loss of beach for recreation and habitat.
Case Update (April 2020)
In February, the Southern Environmental Law Center filed a motion for summary judgment (“MSJ”, asking the court to make a pre-trial ruling for plaintiffs ) on behalf of Surfrider and our co-plaintiffs in the case. The MSJ argues that the U.S. Army Corps’ permit violates the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act, and that the Corps failed to consider the project’s impact on beach access. Briefing on this MSJ continues, with the Corps and Sea Island having responded and made cross motions for summary judgment, and the plaintiffs’ Reply brief due May 15th.
Meanwhile, in March, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources issued Sea Island a consent order (PDF) in response to Sea Island’s violation of the Shore Protection Act. The order required Sea Island to pay $40,000 and remove their unpermitted extension of the groin.
Case Update (November 2019)
Permit Amendment. In Summer 2019, Surfrider learned that Sea Island had constructed its groin and sand renourishment project outside of the bounds of its U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) permit, and received an after the fact amendment of its permit to bring its project into compliance (instead of complying with the initial permit, or seeking approval of the changes before construction). The amendment was issued without any public notice or opportunity for comment.
Amended Complaint. In September 2019, Surfrider filed an Amended Complaint in our lawsuit informing the court of the USACE permit modifications and adding a claim that the permit modification violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the Administrative Procedures Act, and the Clean Water Act. Sea Island and the USACE have filed their answers with the court, generally denying the new claim.
Next Steps. Surfrider anticipates plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgement (where a party asks the court for a ruling in a case summarily, without a trial) will be due around late February 2020, with motions and briefing to follow.
Press Release (February 13, 2019)
Comment Letter (June 28, 2018)
Read our comment letter submitted by Southern Environmental Law Center:
June 28, 2018
Via U.S. Mail and E-mail
Colonel Marvin Griffin, Commander
Attention: Sarah E. Wise
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
100 West Oglethorpe Avenue
Savannah, Georgia 31401-3640
Re: Sea Island Groin, Application Number SAS-2015-00742
Dear Colonel Griffin:
The Southern Environmental Law Center submits the following comment letter on behalf of One Hundred Miles, Altamaha Riverkeeper, and the Surfrider Foundation. This letter is meant to supplement the comments that we submitted on January 15, 2016; February 28, 2017; and May 23, 2018. Thank you for including these prior comments in the record; we ask that you include this last set in the record as well. In these final comments, we attach an expert report that further supports our opposition to Sea Island Acquisition, LLC’s (SIA) request for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) permit. The permit would, should it be granted, authorize SIA to do the following: (1) construct a T-head groin in front of eight undeveloped building lots; (2) pump between 1,315,000 to 2,500,000 cubic yards of sand from an offshore source; and (3) place that sand in front of a revetment stretching 2.8 miles along the main part of Sea Island.
As we have stated in each of our comments, should the Corps grant this permit, it would be opening itself up for a legal challenge. As it is now configured, the project would violate federal law.
In the attached expert report, Bret M. Webb, Ph.D., P.E., D.CE, describes the irreparable harm that the Sea Island project could cause to the Spit. According to Dr. Webb, the storm surges that accompanied Hurricanes Irma and Mathew robbed the Spit and its beach of a tremendous amount of sand. And in some places these waves overtopped the Spit and reached the river on its landward side. As we demonstrated in our state challenge to the proposed project, the Spit was vulnerable even before the hurricanes made landfall. The proposed groin would exacerbate that problem. The groin would sit immediately updrift of where the Spit is the weakest. Any downdrift erosion would make it that much easier for the next set of storm surges to break the Spit in two.
Dr. Webb also explains in his report that SIA did not explore all reasonable alternatives. In particular, SIA did not perform a meaningful analysis of any alternative that would involve beach nourishment on the Spit south of the proposed project area. According to Dr. Webb, in light of the massive beach nourishment project SIA has proposed for the main part of the island, SIA could extend the proposed beach nourishment down the Spit. Not only would this alternative be logistically possible, but it also would be reasonable in cost.
We ask that the Corps take Dr. Webb’s report into consideration when it makes its final permit decision regarding the proposed project. If it does, the Corps must conclude that the proposed project would not meet applicable federal requirements.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed project. If you have any questions concerning these comments, please feel free to contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 404-521-9900.
William W. Sapp
cc: Megan Desrosiers, One Hundred Miles
Jen Hilburn, Altamaha Riverkeeper
Staley Prom, Surfrider Foundation
Steve Combs, Surfrider Foundation
- Surfrider Foundation is reviewing the Sea Island Project Addendum in advance of the comment deadline on April 19, 2018.
- News: Sea Island still planning to build harmful groin (Brunswick News; March 26, 2018).
- Public notice posted for Sea Island Project Addendum has been filed with Army Corps (March 20, 2018). A copy of the initial 2015 application for the permit starts on page 49 of the Addendum.
- Marketing of homes on Sea Island spit is halted (AJC; October 11, 2017)
- Sea Island Acquisition must get approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before it can begin work on the project. The application is presently inactive. (Last reviewed 2/22/2017)
- SELC: Court Rules in Favor of Sea Island Groin Construction (December 22, 2016)
- Sea Island beach project stalled with Army Corps (October 2, 2016)
- Surfrider Foundation Statement on the Georgia Office of Administration’s Decision on Sea Island Spit Permit (August 26, 2016)
- Closing argument is scheduled for July 13, 2016 in Atlanta for Surfrider Foundation’s appeal to stop the rock groin on Sea Island. More info. Please contact us if you can attend the hearing.
- Press Release: Surfrider Stresses Protection of Pristine Sea Island Spit At Administrative Hearing (May 9, 2016)
- Surfrider Foundation filed an administrative appeal challenging the Georgia Shore Protection Committee’s decision to permit a permanent 350-foot long rock groin (with a 120-foot T-shaped head) on Sea Island, in southeast Georgia. (January 11, 2016)
- Surfrider Foundation, on behalf of its Georgia Chapter, and the Altamaha Riverkeeper, filed an administrative appeal challenging the Georgia Shore Protection Committee’s decision to permit a permanent 350-foot long rock groin (with a 120-foot T-shaped head) on Sea Island, in southeast Georgia. The Committee’s permit would also allow applicant Sea Island Acquisition, LLC to engage in dredge and fill and other shoreline development along the pristine Sea Island Spit, including placement of a 200 square foot layer of rock on the landward end of the groin.
- Surfrider Foundation and Altamaha Riverkeeper allege that this new project would exacerbate erosion of this already highly erosive coastal barrier island, with devastating impacts.
- Petitioners were initially represented by attorney Steve Caley at GreenLaw. GreenLaw is a non-profit organization based in Atlanta, Georgia, which takes legal action in defense of our environment.
- The Southern Environmental Law Center represents the current plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit and related matters.
- Brunswick News: U.S. Army Corps has more questions for Sea Island protect (April 11, 2016)
- Florida Times-Union: Conservation groups appeal state permit for stone groin on Sea Island beach (Jan 12, 2016)
- Chapter News: Surfrider Files Appeal to Stop Rock Groin on Sea Island, Georgia (January 11, 2016)