ST. MARYS, Ga. --- The Georgia Supreme Court ruled Monday in favor of a developer seeking to build one of the largest private marina projects in the state.
In its 5-2 decision, the court upheld a Department of Natural Resources decision that the Coastal Marshland Protection Act does not cover structures built on solid ground away from the shore at the Cumberland Harbour development in St. Marys.
The dispute began after the DNR gave Orlando-based Land Resource approval in 2005 to build two marinas with dock space for 296 boats, a dry-dock storage facility for 400 boats and as many as 92 individual docks at home sites. The proposed dock space at Cumberland Harbour would span 17,500 feet and cover 3.25 acres of water bottoms and coastal marshland.
The lawsuit filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center argued that state regulators must consider the potential harm to sea life by stormwater runoff from areas away from the shore when considering granting permits for the construction of residential communities along coastal regions.
The developer argued it carefully took into account impacts to the marsh when it applied for the permit to build the marina.
"We are pleased with the court's decision and look forward to working with the DNR and Army Corps of Engineers to finalize our permits so the residents of St. Marys and Cumberland Harbour can finally get the marina they deserve," J. Robert Ward, the CEO and president of Land Resource, said in a prepared statement.
The company's attorneys argued that the Coastal Marshland Protection Act does not give state regulators the authority to consider impacts to the marshlands from a development built in an upland area.
Will Hurst, a company spokesman, said the ruling allows Land Resource to apply for permits to begin construction of the marina without having to deal with the stormwater runoff issue.
However, Land Resource recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which could delay the project. But Mr. Hurst said the ruling will have a "tremendous impact" that allows another company to build the marina and develop Cumberland Harbour.
Chris DeScherer, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said his organization might file a motion asking the court to reconsider its opinion.
"I'm sure the developer will claim victory," he said. "The Supreme Court ruled against us."