The Hall County Board of Commissioners approved new erosion regulations Thursday, adjusting the first proposed ordinance after discussions with local environmental groups and development engineers.
Under previous county regulations, only 20 acres of a construction site could be disturbed at any given time. The new rules remove that restriction, instead deferring to state rules that allow for 50 acres to be disturbed at once.
The removal of the 20-acre limit drew concerns from local nonprofits Chattahoochee Riverkeeper and the Lake Lanier Association, which both advocate for water quality measures and protection of Lake Lanier.
County officials worked with stakeholders to revise the ordinance by adding requirements that developers follow “best management practices” to reduce the effects of erosion and sedimentation on nearby bodies of water.
The rules were unanimously approved by commissioners Thursday.
For job sites of 20-50 acres, developers will be required to provide two best management practices of the county’s list of 13. Developers at job sites of more than 50 acres will be required to follow three of the best management practices.
The list includes requirements such as inspections after at least half an inch of rain and reducing impervious surfaces.
For job sites that are over 20 acres, the developer will be required to place hay bales below the double silt fence. Double silt fences are required by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division next to state waters, but the hay bales will be an additional requirement by the county. Regardless of the acreage, any job site that is adjacent to Lake Lanier will require double row silt fencing, along with hay bales for drainage areas directly flowing to the lake.
The revisions gained support from the Lake Lanier Association.
“We feel as though where we have ended up provides real protection for Lake Lanier for its water quality, as well as allows for smart growth,” Executive Director Jennifer Flowers said.
And Clyde Morris, a vice president of the association, said the lake is a valuable resource that should be protected from threats like erosion.
“Hall County is in a unique and envious position when it comes to attracting business and development,” Morris said. “Developers want to come here for many reasons, and Lake Lanier is among the most persuasive of them. So, it would be an understatement to say that it is incumbent upon each of us to do everything we can to protect Lake Lanier from erosion and sedimentation and pollution.”
Brian Rochester of Rochester and Associates, a local development engineer, was also involved in conversations about finding a compromise. He spoke in favor of the revised ordinance Thursday and had previously spoken in support of the first proposal.
“Hall County is going to be better off for what we’ve done. … It’s good that after a lot of blood, sweat and tears and a few heated conversations, we got to a good place,” he said.
Dale Caldwell, headwaters director of Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, spoke against the changes, saying they didn’t go far enough to protect waterways.
He said he supported protections staying in place for residential developments and requiring some additional best management practices for commercial sites.
Caldwell also said the state 50-acre rule is well-intentioned but not always well-enforced.
“Lake Lanier is already heavily impaired by pollution, including sediment runoff from construction sites, with the county’s current ordinance,” Caldwell said. “… We know that growth will occur. We just want to see it done in a sustainable manner.”
Commissioner Billy Powell said that county officials and stakeholders looked at state regulations and found restrictions that would be most effective at reducing erosion and sedimentation. Those restrictions were added to the list that developers will be able to choose from under the new county ordinance.
Flowers said Hall can be a model for other jurisdictions on Lanier to address erosion.
“We all started very far apart, and how we were all able to come together to allow smart growth. … We need smart growth. Without that, you don’t have the jobs, you don’t have the facilities and the industries that we need to come here,” Flowers said after the meeting.
While Powell is a vice president of Lake Lanier Association, Flowers said he was not involved in internal conversations at the association about the proposal.
Powell said he was glad the proposal could be modified to address stakeholder concerns.
“If everybody will take the time to have an open mind, it works, and everybody can have a say so in the end product,” Powell said.