Board OKs New Rules on Marshes; Environmentalists Say the 50-Foot Building Limit Weakens the DNR

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Byline: BRANDON LARRABEE

ATLANTA - Some construction alongside the state's coastal marshes would be pushed back 50 feet from the fragile ecosystems under rules approved by the Board of Natural Resources.

But environmentalists say the provisions would gut court rulings granting the Department of Natural Resources far more power to protect the marsh.

The action brings an end to the debate of the rules in front of the agency's board, but likely will not close the issue of how much the state should do to guard the area from development.

The rules lay out how the agency should grant permits to commercial property owners who want to erect a dock, walkway, boat ramp, marina or similar structure. The rules would require connected "upland facilities," such as buildings and parking lots, to be built at least 50 feet away from the marsh.

The regulations would also set standards for cleaning up storm water that can carry pollution into the marshes, and for impervious surfaces, such as concrete, that can route tainted water into the marshes.

They would not cover private property or commercial construction that isn't related to a structure that extends into the marsh, though a bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced legislation that would require a permit for any construction within 50 feet of the marshes.

Georgians for Responsible Coastal Development, an organization that includes coastal developers, property owners, real estate companies, engineers and others, hailed the rules.

"The new rules do provide new standards and practices that will better protect the marsh while at the same time clarifying the board's narrow interpretation of the Marsh Act itself," said Shawn Davis, a spokesman for the group. …