Byline: CAROLE HAWKINS
Muddy rivers and drying wetlands are just a couple of reasons environmentalists and neighbors are watching a McIntosh County development.
In the past five months, workers at a 20-acre development on Young Man Road in northern McIntosh County have filled wetlands, bush-hogged marshes, failed to apply for needed permits and run bulldozers after government agencies warned them to stop, all in defiance of multiple state and federal regulations, say environmentalists.
"We consider this some of the worst destruction we've seen in the marshes," said Altamaha Riverkeeper James Holland. "It looks like 1,000 feet of marsh buffer has been destroyed. I don't know how much salt marsh and wetlands have been destroyed."
The Julienton River has shown the effects, one nearby resident says.
"It's been a lot more muddy since construction began over there," said neighbor Ed Stelle.
But project managers say the commotion all amounts to harassment on the part of area residents, the Riverkeeper and overzealous government regulators.
"Everything we've done so far doesn't require a permit," said Tonnie Shadron, the registered agent for owner Anthony Silva and Waterfront Paradise LLC. "As long as we do forestry practices, we can plant within the [marsh] buffer."
No violations have been issued, but four regulatory agencies have scheduled a Notice of Violation conference with Silva on Tuesday. The meeting gives the owner one more chance to present a plan that shows compliance with state and federal laws.
In March, the Department of Natural Resources first responded to complaints that workers had mowed the marsh on three sides of property bordering the Julienton River.
It is illegal to cut any marsh vegetation, according to DNR Erosion and Sediment Inspector Shannon Winsness, and a 25-foot buffer between the edge of the marsh and the uplands must not be touched in most cases.
"It provides a filtering mechanism for storm water," Winsness said. Without it, rains send plumes of muddy water into the marsh, smothering species living there, he said.
SEEKING AN EXEMPTION
According to documents released through the Georgia Open Records Act, DNR inspectors found heavy equipment had cut marsh grasses on the property. DNR inspector Buck Bennett advised Silva to perform a jurisdictional delineation - a survey that determines the limits of developable property.
Around the same time, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers letter warned Silva not to fill wetlands without a permit. The Corps requested drawings of the proposed development and advised the owner to hire an environmental consultant. …