Georgia Supreme Court issues decision in Cumberland Harbour case that fails to 

fully protect coastal marshlands 


November 17, 2008 


(GEORGIA) The Georgia Supreme Court today issued a ruling in a case against the Coastal 

Marshlands Protection Committee of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, 

which centered on a permit granted to the developer of Cumberland Harbour. The 

ruling affirms a Court of Appeals interpretation of the state Coastal Marshlands 

Protection Act that was narrower than urged by coastal protection groups 

appealing the Cumberland Harbour permit. The permit now goes back to the 

committee for further evaluation of impacts to right whales, manatees, and sea 

turtles as required by the Administrati ve Law Judge earlier in the case and not 

appealed to the Supreme Court. 




Following is a statement from SELC Senior Attorney Chris DeScherer: 




“We are disappointed that the Supreme Court’s ruling interpreted the Coastal 

Marshlands Protection Act in a way that does not fully protect the marsh from 

developments next to the marshlands, like the Cumberland Harbour development. 

The Supreme Court today left nearly 400,000 acres of one of the world’s most 

productive natural resources in uncertain hands. This ruling limits what had 

been one of the strongest tools available to ensure the necessary balance of 

ecological protections with economic development as the Georgia coast continues 

to grow. We are considering whether to file a motion with the Court to 

reconsider its opinion.” 




“We believe, however, that the Supreme Court’s opinion does affirm the duty 

of the Coastal Marshlands Protection Committee to consider whether stormwater 

discharges cause direct physical alteration of the marsh. As the committee 

reconsiders the permit for impacts to wildlife, the conservation groups will 

present evidence that the massive discharges of stormwater from Cumberland 

Harbour will physically alter the marsh in violation of the Supreme Court 

opinion. That kind of damage is all too frequent from the increasing 

development of land in areas=2 0adjacent to the marsh.” 




“SELC and its partners will continue to use the protection of the Coastal 

M arshlands Protection Act, together with the patchwork of other state and 

federal regulations, to ensure that our irreplaceable coastal resources are 









The Cumberland Harbour development plans up to 1,200 homes and commercial 

facilities on the upland, as well as two large-scale marinas and community and 

private docks. The largest marina project ever to be permitted in Georgia, 

Cumberland Harbour is located directly across from Cumberland Island National 

Seashore. The Coastal Marshlands Protection Committee approved a permit for 

Atlanta developer Land Resource Companies without considering the impact of the 

development on the marsh as a whole, such as increased stormwater pollution. The 

committee also failed to consider adequate protections for critically endangered 

species such as the right whale, manatee and five species of sea turtles. 




SELC, on behalf of its clients, had argued that the Coastal Marshlands 

Protection Committee was obligated to protect Georgia’s marshlands from the 

impacts of large-scale development by considering, among other things, the 

discharge of polluted stormwater runoff, the amount of roads, driveways, 

rooftops and other impervious surfaces, impacts to marine life, and the design=C 2

and maintenance of natural buffers. The state had previously asserted that the 

Committee was not required to regulate upland activities and could instead 

permit development in an “a la carte” approach that only considers those 

portions constructed in the marsh. 






Chris DeScherer – Senior Attorney (843) 720-5270 


Stephen E. O’Day – Smith, Gambrell & Russell (404) 815-3527 



David Kyler – Center for a Sustainable Coast (912) 638-3612 


April Ingle – Georgia River Network (706) 549-4508 


Gordon Rogers – Satilla Riverkeeper (912) 223-6761 




Distributed by

Marjorie Young

Savannah, GA



Public Relations Firm



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