BlogIn the LoopNews

Mayor Opposes Environmental Protections

Mayor Nancy Denson opposes expanding buffers around Athens lakes, ponds and wetlands, she said at Tuesday’s Athens-Clarke Commission meeting.

Denson said she opposes banning development near lakes and ponds located entirely on a single piece of property because “we may literally make parcels unusable and have a taking of property.” 

She also worried that environmental protections that are stricter than the state’s would keep businesses away from Clarke County. “If we have 50- or 75-foot buffers and our adjacent counties don’t have those, we’re going to be bypassed,” she said.

About four years ago, then-mayor Heidi Davison and commissioners asked the Planning Department to look at expanding a state law setting a 25-foot buffers around lakes and ponds and adding protections for wetlands. Planners decided that new regulations would have a limited effect on water quality, and that the boundaries of wetlands are too hard to define. For detention ponds, buffers aren’t needed because they aren’t connected to the rest of the watershed, Planning Director Brad Griffin said.

The commission is considering a Planning Department proposal to remove the 25-foot local buffer on lakes and ponds. If they cross property lines, they’d still be subject to the 25-foot buffer around “state waters.”

The could hurt water quality, Kyle McKay of the Upper Oconee Watershed Network, an environmental group, told the commission. Buffers should be 50 feet, according to a 2007 study, he said.

Developers would still have to meet state and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers standards to build around wetlands, but those rules are in question due to a lawsuit two environmental groups filed in 2010 challenging an artificial lake in South Georgia. A judge upheld the state’s 25-foot buffer around wetlands in that case, but the decision could be appealed. If the ruling were reversed, ACC could find itself with no protections.

The commission voted to table the revisions. Denson said she’ll either schedule a work session for more discussion or assign it to the commission’s Legislative Review Committee.

“These kinds of uncertainties about what the rules are is what as hurt us in economic development in the past,” she said.