Buckner: Georgia Needs a New EPD Buffer Provision

As a member of the Georgia House of Representatives who cares about both my constituents and our environment, I take seriously the Georgia Supreme Court’s statement in the June 2015 ruling of Turner v. Georgia River Network, which states, “In order for the buffer requirement to apply to state waters alongside banks without wrested vegetation, the legislature would need to take action to amend the statute.”

In its ruling, the Court recognized that the Georgia Department of Environmental Protection (EPD) has been enforcing the required 25-foot stream buffer provision at random, however, the court agreed with the EPD’s reading of the law. According to the Georgia Erosion and Sedimentation Act, water bodies in Georgia are granted a buffer to be measured from the point where vegetation has been wrested from its banks by stream flow or wave action.

This method of explaining a buffer works well only about half of the time. The other half of the time, a clear point marked by wrested vegetation does not exist because stream flow or wave action in the body of water is not fast or strong enough to pull vegetation from a bank. In these places, no buffer is required.

A law is only as good as it is understood and enforced. These laws, like the buffer provision in the Erosion and Sedimentation Act, are poorly written, not uniformly enforced, and are costly and frustrating for the taxpayer and property owners of Georgia.

As a lawmaker, I do my best to protect the fiscal, natural, and human resources of this state. As such, I feel that my colleagues and I need to work this session to accept the charge of the Georgia Supreme Court to revise the buffer provision to include a method of buffer delineation that can be clearly understood and fairly and uniformly enforced.

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