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Debate continues over Waterways marina
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Although it has been approved by the DNR, the debate continues on the proposed Kilkenny marina project.

As part of the public-private project between Bryan County and Savannah Landholdings LLC a new marina is slated be built off the marshlands of Red Bird Creek, located in the Kilkenny area, as part of Waterways Township formerly known as Genesis Point.

Bryan County Administrator Phil Jones said the project will bring much-needed additional boat access to the county. He also said the project would improve the wetlands in that area because the permit includes rejuvenating and adding plant life to the adjacent 5,000 square foot causeway.

"A legal opinion has already been rendered," Jones said. "DNR Chairman Chris Clark conducted a legal review, and this is a permitted use."

Last week, during a closed session, county commissioners voted in favor of intervening as an advocate on behalf of the DNR’s ruling in this matter.

On the other side of the argument is landowner William Butler, who owns a nearby site that has been granted preliminary approval for a full-scale marina to be built, his attorney and former Georgia Roy Barnes and the Center for a Sustainable Coast, an environmental group based in St. Simons Island. They are all contending that the county’s proposed marina infringed on land protected by the Heritage Trust Act because the site includes land preserved by the state that cannot be developed.

A representative with the DNR said they could not comment due to pending litigation.

"I thought we went through the whole process and met every possible requirement, so obviously I’m surprised by the lawsuit," said Paul Fletcher with Savannah Landholdings LLC, who owns the site. "It sounds this is more about land speculation than anything else. Mr. Butler appears to be taking the high moral road, but he tried to sell us his land before all this litigation."

Both Butler and the Center for a Sustainable Coast have filed a petition with the courts to appeal the DNR’s ruling.

"If this project is allowed, it could create a precedent that could have devastating effects across the state," Barnes said. "This is about more than just one piece of property. This is about highest protection offered by the state. Bryan County is saying they can get around it by building a bridge over it. If this is allowed, what’s to stop Marriott or any other entity from doing the same thing elsewhere?"

David Kyler with the Center for a Sustainable Coast said this is the first case he knows of where the DNR’s Coastal Marshlands Protection Committee has ruled on a Heritage Trust issue.

"Maybe they didn’t do due diligence here," Kyler said. "It doesn’t necessarily mean there is a conspiracy here."

But Kyler said the proposed marina project is in clear violation of the Heritage Trust Act.

"Hopefully this will be independently decided upon by an administrative law judge," Kyler said. "If not, the next step may be superior court. The logic is pretty iron clad here."

Fletcher said the Heritage Trust Act "has very specific provisions, and we’ve met every one of them."

A date has not yet been set for the petition to be heard by a judge.

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