State EPD admits mistake in permitting wastewater treatment facility on McIntosh County marsh hammock
After the Southern Environmental Law Center and Altamaha Riverkeeper requested that Georgia’s Office of State Administrative Hearings review a permit for a wastewater treatment facility on a small marsh hammock in McIntosh County, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division reversed course, admitting the permit was issued in error. An administrative law judge has granted EPD’s request to vacate the wastewater permit for Union Island and for the case to be remanded because the agency made an error in “fail[ing] to adequately consider all the criteria necessary in making a decision to issue” the permit.
“We commend the Environmental Protection Division for doing the right thing for Union Island and for marsh hammocks throughout coastal Georgia. By asking the court to vacate this permit, EPD has helped ensure the health of this marsh hammock so valued by the people of McIntosh County, as well as the surrounding marsh and water quality,” said Catherine Wannamaker, staff attorney with SELC. “The agency’s actions help efforts to effectively manage all environmental impacts of growth in coastal Georgia, including wastewater treatment.
Southeast Georgia Land and Development Company planned to develop 18 vacation homes on Union Island using an on-site sewage management system to handle the wastewater generated at the site. In April, EPD issued a permit for the system. In May, SELC, representing Altamaha Riverkeeper, challenged EPD’s issuance of the permit based on expert opinions that the system would not properly treat the wastewater before it entered the groundwater, the marsh, and the estuarine system, thereby threatening the marsh and the surrounding waters on the small marsh hammock. Furthermore, the permit could have opened the way to future such developments and wastewater systems on marsh hammocks, which previously were considered off-limits to development.
Much of Georgia’s coast, including McIntosh County, remains relatively undeveloped. However, growth is fast approaching many of these regions, making decisions about how best to manage that growth increasingly significant.
“Georgia’s priceless salt marsh estuary system deserves the best regulation, and we couldn’t be more pleased that in this case the state has done the right thing,” said Deborah Sheppard, Executive Director of Altamaha Riverkeeper. “New developments are being planned and constructed in sensitive tidal and freshwater wetland areas without proper evaluation of how their wastewater will be managed, and we are pleased that EPD recognized the need to look more closely at the system proposed in this case.”