Originally created 09/06/00

Counties support green space plan



A public hearing held to discuss viable green space projects in Richmond County brought many of the city's painful ghosts to the table Tuesday night.

Environmentalists said the city should use the $618,000 grant to save the city's eroding New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam. Others suggested the state funds be used to purchase property from homeowners in flood zones.

"We've got a lot of flood plan properties that's not worth much to the owners," said George Patty, director of Richmond County Planning Commission.

At this point, however, the county is compiling only a wish list.

Gov. Roy Barnes' green space initiative is proving highly popular with the counties that are eligible for the first year of the land-preservation incentive program.

With more than 2´ months left to apply for a share in the $30 million the General Assembly has set aside for this year, 38 of the 40 eligible counties already have agreed to participate in the voluntary effort, said Connie Bell, green space project officer for the state Department of Natural Resources.

Only officials in Paulding County in the metro-Atlanta region and in Northwest Georgia's Murray County still are weighing whether to take part in the program.

"I think it's a project people are glad to see has arrived," Ms. Bell said Tuesday. "There are high hopes for what it will do."

Mr. Barnes conceived of the green space initiative as a way to encourage counties to preserve undeveloped land and head off the ills that accompany urban sprawl, including traffic congestion and air pollution.

Because it's aimed at Georgia's most heavily populated and/or fastest growing counties, the program is limited for now to counties with a population of at least 60,000 or that have experienced an average annual growth of at least 800 people since the 1990 census.

The list of eligible counties includes the entire Atlanta region, Richmond and Columbia counties, Savannah and its suburbs, Glynn and Camden counties on the Southeast Georgia coast and Clarke County.

Counties wishing to qualify for the funding have until Nov. 30 to submit a plan to protect 20 percent of their undeveloped land. The money will be distributed based on each county's property-tax contribution to the state.

The potential uses for the funds are as varied as the counties applying for the grants.

Sam Booher of Augusta, state chairman for the Sierra Club, said the state's flexibility in enforcing the 20 percent requirement also has been helpful. Counties are being given time to work toward that goal and can reach it affordably through such arrangements as conservation easements, which leave property in an owner's possession but guarantee it won't be developed.

"Everybody wants to do what's right," Mr. Booher said. "The governor is giving us the funds to do that."

Staff Writer Clarissa J. Walker contributed to this report.

Reach Dave Williams at (404) 589-8424.