Landowners Blast Marsh Island Proposal; They Say the Proposed Ban on Bridges to Small Hammocks Takes Away Property Rights

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVE WILLIAMS, The Times-Union

ATLANTA -- Coastal Georgia property owners and builders on Tuesday criticized proposals to regulate development on small marsh islands as a plot by environmentalists to take away property rights.

Seven property owners and builders spoke to the Georgia Board of Natural Resources following a report recommending the state set limits on building bridges to the environmentally fragile islands, known as hammocks.

A board committee accepted the report and referred it to the full board for a vote today.

"What's driving all this is access," said Andy Hill, owner of more than 2,000 acres of hammock property in McIntosh County and a member of the advisory committee that issued the report. "If [environmentalists] can cut off access, people won't be able to get to their properties."

Environmental groups long have advocated stepped-up state protection of marsh hammocks, which dot Georgia's six coastal counties between the mainland and outer barrier islands.

But the push for regulation has accelerated during the housing boom of recent years, as developers increasingly eye hammocks as desirable spots for upscale projects.

The report presented Tuesday is the product of nearly a year of work by a 24-member committee of coastal residents. The committee formed in the wake of a lawsuit challenging bridge permits for a proposed development in Savannah.

The panel included representatives of the state Department of Natural Resources, local government officials, environmental activists, developers and Realtors.

The committee made some non-controversial suggestions, including that the state create a conservation fund to acquire hammock properties and offer tax credits to owners who donate hammocks to the state.

But the panel also recommended that the state ban new bridges to marsh hammocks of fewer than 3 acres that are located farther than 50 feet from the mainland or the closest barrier island. …