The Georgia EPD announced on Earth Day 2014 that it would no longer enforce buffer on any stream or river in Georgia that did not have “wrested vegetation”.

As a land owner and a legislator this change concerns me greatly because naturally vegetated buffers on streams protect the adjacent land from damage by floods and washouts. Equally important buffers protect the quality of the water in our streams.

This current interpretation of Georgia law regarding “wrested vegetation” is confusing and unfair to private landowners. In a 2015 Georgia Supreme Court decision the majority opinion says: “In order for the buffer requirement to apply to state waters alongside banks without wrested vegetation, the legislature would need to take action to amend the statute.”

The Court thinks that the General Assembly needs to restore protection to all streams, not only those that flow so fast they tear plants loose from their banks.  A large number of streams in GA are full of plants, including cypress and gum trees, but the water moves so slowly it does not tear even grass loose from their banks.

Whenever vague standards or rules occur in the law it can open the door to allow for special treatment for some. The rules should be clear for all and not allow special treatment for anyone with “connections” whether real or perceived. Clear rules protect us all.

Buffers have been in place since the 1980s in Georgia protecting our property next to streams from flood damage, and the deposit of stream-borne silt. These buffers have prevented land disturbing activities upstream from putting dirt into the water where it can move downstream, onto other people’s property.

At the suggestion of the Georgia Supreme Court the General Assembly needs to pass a law that says that all GA streams have buffers that start at the ordinary high water mark, which can be measured in several clearly-defined ways.

A group of legislators is suggesting the following definition be put in Georgia law. Buffers will be defined in terms of the “ordinary high water mark”. The “ordinary high water mark” means the line of demarcation along state waters established by the fluctuations of water and indicated by physical characteristics such as clear, natural line impressed on the bank, shelving, changes in the character of soil, destruction or wresting of terrestrial vegetation, the presence of litter and debris, or other appropriate means that consider the characteristics of the surrounding areas.

This definition plainly relies on common sense, easily recognized features on lakes and streams and it should be the law that puts vegetated buffers back in place to protect the rights of landowners with property next to lakes and streams.

It is important to realize that this definition does not change any of the buffers currently in place it just insures they will continue to be there to protect the value of our property and protect our streams and lakes from upstream run off and sedimentation.

We need your help.

Please notify your State Representative and tell them you want the buffer definition passed into law to maintain the protection of our land and streams.

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Profile photo of Georgia Representative Debbie Buckner (D)

A native Georgian, Rep. Buckner grew up in Columbus and lived there until she married and moved to Talbot County in 1976. She was first elected to the Georgia General Assembly in 2002. Currently serving in House District 137 which is comprised of all of Talbot county,
and portions of Harris, Meriwether, the eastern part of Muscogee County and Fort Benning.

Rep. Buckner serves as a member of the Ways and Means, Natural Resources & Environment, Retirement, and State Institutions & Property committees. As a freshman legislator, she served as secretary of the State Institutions & Properties Committee, a member of the Health & Human Services Committee, and was the only freshman to serve
on the Natural Resources & Environment Water Subcommittee. She has served as an assistant to the Majority Whip and then as assistant to the Minority Whip. She was the House Democratic Caucus Secretary and currently serves as Vice Chair of the Rural Caucus.

Rep. Buckner is the Former Director of Community Benefit at Columbus Regional Healthcare System, having previously worked for Doctors Hospital as the Director of Community Relations and the Columbus Health Department as Senior Public Health Educator.

She earned a BS Degree in Health Science from Columbus State University and attended Georgia Southwestern College for postgraduate work and to earn a teaching certificate. Rep. Buckner is a Board Member of Twin Cedars, which provides programs and services to children and their families in Columbus, LaGrange and Macon, is currently serving as Board Chair of Three Rivers AHEC, a Board Member and Past Chairman of the West Central Georgia Cancer Coalition, a member of the Network for Professionals and Executives, member of the Chattahoochee Indian Heritage Association Board and serves as member of the Easter Seals Board and the Safe Kids of Columbus Board.

Her community service has included volunteering for the American Lung Association of Georgia, Columbus-Ft. Benning Chapter of the American Cancer Society, Girl Scouts, Columbus Hospice, the Jekyll Island Foundation, the Valley Collaborative for Suicide Prevention and Historic Talbotton Foundation. In 2004, she was inducted into the Gracious Ladies of Georgia, was named Legislator of the Year by the Georgia Rural Health Association, was presented the American Heart
Association’s Outstanding Advocate Award, and received the American Cancer Society’s Outstanding Legislative Leadership Award for 2003 and 2004. In 2005 and 2006, she was recognized by the Georgia Alliance for Tobacco Prevention. In 2006, the Georgia Environmental Council honored her as the Legislator of the Year. In 2008, The Initiative to
Protect Jekyll Island State Park named her Georgia State Representative of the Year, and the Georgia Conservation Voters honored her with an Environmental Leadership Award in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012. The Upper Chattahoochee River presented her with the River Legislator Award in 2010. In 2012, Rep. Buckner received the “: Ernestine Aurelia
Mack Service to Mankind” award from the Gamma Tau Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. Also in 2012 she was named Georgia State Retirees Association Legislator of the Year. In 2014 she was honored by the Meriwether County NAACP for outstanding service and served as the Parade Grand Marshall.

Representative Buckner is married to Mike Buckner, and they live at Fielder’s Mill, in Talbot County, which is one of the few historic, operational, grist mills in the state of Georgia. They have three children

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