As a result of the Council’s continued working relationship with Georgia EPD and the successful passage Senate Bill 460 in 2004, the Council was asked once again to serve on the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s Erosion & Soil Control Rules (E&SC) Stakeholders group, which has been reconvened to advise EPD on a number of proposed rule changes regarding stream buffer variances. The Stakeholder’s group has met four times to provide input on these proposed rule changes. Council board member and President of Lynwood Development Group, Woody Snell, represented the Council on the Stakeholders group supported by Council staff.
A number of the proposed changes provide clarity to the process and give the EPD and the applicant’s greater flexibility and a pathway to a more efficient permitting sequence. At the most recent meeting, much of the discussion focused around the proposed changes to change the definition of the newly renamed “MINOR Buffer Impact.”
The current proposed language (in italics) for “Minor” reads:
“MINOR Buffer Impact” means an impact that upon completion yields no ADDITIONAL above ground, man-made materials or structure within the buffer, MAINTAINS THE ORIGINAL grade, AND RESULTS IN LESS THAN 5,000 SQUARE FEET OF BUFFER IMPACTS PER STREAM CROSSING AND/OR LESS THAN 5,000 SQUARE FEET OF BUFFER IMPACTS PER INDIVIDUAL AREA OF ENCROACHMENT FOR EACH PROJECT.
Stakeholders debated on the use of the term “linear feet” versus “square feet” and decided to recommend “square feet” as the appropriate measure.
Additionally, there is still a concern with revisions to the length of time a stream buffer variance is valid. Currently, the law has no time limit on a variance granted. The EPD is proposing time limits on these variances with the following:
If the APPROVED BUFFER IMPACTS ARE NOT COMPLETED within FIVE YEARS of the date issued, the BUFFER variance will become null and void.
THE APPLICANT MAY REQUEST A BUFFER VARIANCE TIME EXTENSION IF THE APPROVED BUFFER IMPACTS WILL NOT BE COMPLETED PRIOR TO THE BUFFER VARIANCE EXPIRATION DATE. THE BUFFER VARIANCE TIME EXTENSION, IF GRANTED, CAN BE FOR A PERIOD OF UP TO FIVE YEARS. THE BUFFER VARIANCE TIME EXTENSION MUST BE REQUESTED IN WRITING AT LEAST 90 CALENDAR DAYS PRIOR TO THE BUFFER VARIANCE EXPIRATION DATE WITH JUSTIFIABLE CAUSE DEMONSTRATED.
The Council has voiced major concerns with the time limits proposed and will continue to take a position that this is not a valid change addressed within the parameters of Senate Bill 460. The EPD has stated it does not have the equipment or data capacity to store permits for longer than five years. They have assured the Stakeholders that current variances would be grandfathered into the rule change, but there was no mention of this in the proposed rule change until the Council pointed this out. We were assured this would be addressed in the final recommendation.
The schedule for the rule changes is as follows:
(1) EPD will forward copies of the final DRAFT of the amended rules and regulations to the stakeholders by Friday, 07/20/12.
(2) The DNR Board “briefing package” will be forwarded to Linda MacGregor, EPD Watershed Protection Branch Chief, by Tuesday, 07/31/12.
(3) The proposed rule changes (i.e., briefing package) will be presented to the DNR Board during the August 2012 board meeting.
The Council will continue to work with EPD and the Department of Natural Resources to address our concerns and actively present at all DNR Board Meetings. You can view the current proposed changes HERE.