Thursday, December 14, 2023 News · Press Releases

Conservation agreement reduces the development’s impacts to wetlands, the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge

by Lily Abromeit

In a unique effort in collaboration between a developer and conservation advocates, an agreement has been reached regarding a development along the banks of the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge.

RiverPort, a nearly 4,300 acre industrial, residential and commercial development within the City of Hardeeville and Jasper County, shares a 6-mile border with the Refuge and is near the Savannah River. The Savannah River, a moving waterway whose footprint swells and shrinks, depends on this wetland buffer to grow and support the wildlife within it.

Southern Environmental Law Center reached an agreement with the RiverPort developers on behalf of the Coastal Conservation League and Savannah Riverkeeper that will provide important protections for the surrounding areas now and in the future, and provides guidelines for reaching similar agreements in the future.

The agreement aims to minimize, offset, and reduce the development’s impacts to wetlands, the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, wildlife, and other natural resources, as well as to establish opportunities for incorporating solar energy and energy efficiency onsite.

“Although we remain concerned about the significant influx of industrial warehouse development in South Carolina and Georgia, we were pleased that the Riverport developers reached out early to our groups to look for ways to minimize, offset, and reduce impacts to the neighboring Savannah National Wildlife Refuge and nearby rivers and streams,” said Jessie White, Coastal Conservation League’s South Coast Office Director.

The agreement includes:

  • An unprecedented requirement for water quality monitoring that will allow local communities and conservation groups to monitor the impact of the development on local waterways. During construction and for 10 years after, the water runoff flowing from the project site into the wildlife refuge will be monitored and those results will be reported in real time to a publicly available website, allowing for transparency about stream water quality and threats to the refuge and the river.
  • Important stormwater retention requirements to protect the refuge from erosion and physical damage during rain events. The RiverPort developers will retain the first 1.16 inches of rainfall, or the “85th percentile” as required in the Southern Lowcountry Design Manual.
  • A buffer, where feasible, of up to 200 feet (and greater in certain areas) between the southern portion of the development and the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. This will ensure minimal disturbances during RiverPort construction and operation. In addition to this protection, the developers previously donated 288 acres to serve as a buffer along the northern portion of the development.
  • Best efforts by the developers to maximize solar energy potential onsite to offset the development’s energy load, while also looking for opportunities to incorporate energy efficient designs.
  • The establishment of $7 million fund for local land conservation, resilience, and restoration projects in the Lower Savannah and other nearby watersheds. The fund will be managed by a board of representatives from the Coastal Conservation League, Savannah Riverkeeper, and the RiverPort developers. The board will accept and award proposals from third parties, including land trusts, community groups, and governmental entities.

In addition, the RiverPort development will be serviced by rail and by sewer and water, reducing the additional environmental threats posed by significant truck traffic and septic systems.

The RiverPort development is one of several industrial warehouse projects proposed in an area seeing rapid warehouse development that is meant to serve the expanding Port of Savannah.

“While this is an encouraging step forward, the RiverPort development is one piece of a larger puzzle of rapid warehouse development in South Carolina and Georgia to serve the Port of Savannah. With recently announced plans to expand the port even more, we remain concerned about the cumulative impacts that will have,” said Tonya Bonitatibus, Riverkeeper and Executive Director for Savannah Riverkeeper. “We will continue to engage in other developments proposed in the areas surrounding the Port.”

Learn more about this project here.

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