If you haven’t heard of the group 100 Miles, you’re probably not alone.
Since its inception a little less than a year ago, the Brunswick-based environmental group has been keeping a low profile while doing its homework on myriad issues facing the 100-mile-long Georgia coast that inspired its name.
"We’ll be a year old in November, and we’ve spent much of the first year figuring out how we fit in and how best to do our job," said 100 Miles Executive Director Megan Desroisers. "We’ve asked what kind of communities are here, what other environmental advocacy groups are out there, what are they doing and what still needs to be done."
One result of the group’s efforts has been a recent outreach to area media as it seeks to become more of a player in community affairs.
Another result will be on the iinternet in October when a new website is launched. In the meantime, 100 Miles has already been noticed by the Southeastern Environmental Law Center, which called it "a group that is devoted exclusively to preserving and protecting the coast."
That makes 100 Miles one of just two such groups based on the coast that focus conservation efforts strictly on the Georgia coast —the other is St. Simon’s based Center for a Sustainable Coast. Other environmental organizations, such as the Georgia Conservancy and the Altamaha, Ogeechee, Satilla and Savanah Riverkeepers, also spend time advocating on behalf of the coastal watershed.
For 100 Miles, it seems the more the merrier.
"We all do it with a little bit of a different twist, but the best future for our coast involves lots of people advocating for the coast they love," Desrosiers said.
Looking out for the coast is not an easy job, the SELC says. Thanks in part to pressures from development and part from the state’s "lax enforcement of environmental laws ….. saving the Georgia Coast is one of the toughest conservation challenges we face in the South today," the SELC says on its website.
It might not seem to matter so much were it not for the Georgia coast’s abundance of beauty and wildlife, an abundance which includes more than 370,000 acres of salt marsh, over 1,600 marsh hammocks and 14 barrier islands and offshore waters that provide habitat for a number of species, including, as the SLEC points out, the North Atlantic right whale, "one of the rarest marine mammals on the planet."
Yet as Georgia’s coast faces increasing pressure from development, environmentalists say the Georgia Environmental Protection Division has been doing less with less. Among recent state decisions that has such advocacy groups upset is the EPD’s Earth Day decision that a 25-foot buffer around marshland is no longer enforceable, and the SELC and other groups are asking that a judge force the EPD to enforce an earlier court ruling that upheld the buffer.
In the meantime, pressures on the coast have advocacy groups concerned, and Desrosiers points to a University of Georgia study she said shows the "amount of land developed since 1974 has outpaced population growth by seven times, so we’re sprawling outward and consuming land at a much faster rate than the population is growing."
For 100 Miles — which Desrosiers said consists of a number of local landowners and some from Atlanta and other areas — there is a process which ideally would derive "a holistic picture of how coastal communities want our coast to be."
And a lot of that picture comes from community members.
"People who live on the coast know what’s special about living on the coast," Desrosiers said, noting one key to smart growth is realizing the need to preserve the character of the region. "But they don’t always have the opportunity to get together and talk about it with others. We need to come together and talk about it. What do we want to be? What’s special about it? What do we need to change? What do we want to stop?"
Connecting with local government is also important, Desrosiers said, since local government enacts policies that impact the environment on a local level.
Also important is realizing that local decisions can affect the entire coast, so local decisions ideally are made with that in mind.
"I think one of the biggest challenges we face is that our communities need to work together," she said. "If we really want to tackle these future threats, we need to come together as a region. You always hear ‘Savannah is going to do what Savannah is going to do,’ or ‘Saint Mary’s is going to do what Saint Mary’s is going to do,’ and so on. We need to change that."
Environmentalists also point to threats to the marsh and the threat an unhealthy that poses to the wildlife which relies on it. Georgia’s coast is home to a third of the United State’s remaining salt water marshes. There are also more distant threats such as rising sea levels.
But Desrosiers, who lauded Fort Stewart for the way it protects thousands of acres while also fulfilling its mission of protecting the U.S., said the message of 100 Miles is the future of Georgia’s coast can be a positive one.
"We just really need to accept that the future is ours to shape," she said.
For more information about the group, go to www.onehundredmiles.com.