Originally created 10/18/01

Cities watch over nature



Augusta's fledgling program to protect natural areas threatened by development is destined to become a model for other communities, members of Georgia's Greenspace Commission were promised Wednesday.

"We think we're off to a great start," Mayor Bob Young told commission members meeting in Augusta. "In fact, we think ours will become the most unique greenspace program in Georgia."

Augusta is among 89 populous or fast-growing communities eligible to share $30 million allocated through Gov. Roy Barnes' statewide greenspace program. The money is an incentive to preserve 20 percent of undeveloped land as a buffer against environmental problems that accompany urban sprawl.

Augusta, Mr. Young said, has taken an aggressive step in contracting its program to the Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy, which operates a land trust that can steer sensitive areas into conservation easements.

Inaugural efforts at preserving greenspace are focusing along major streams, Richmond County Planning Director George Patty said.

Acquiring buffer zones along streams helps reduce erosion, water pollution and inappropriate development that could cost taxpayers millions down the road in the event of unforeseen flooding.

Augusta's age and existing development present challenges in recreating a city with appropriate greenspace, Mr. Patty said.

"We want to preserve areas within the urban area. It's almost a retrofit - to provide it where people live and work."

Deke Copenhaver, the director of the Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy's land trust, said guiding philosophies for Augusta's program will include thoroughness and detailed planning.

"Haphazard conservation is as bad as haphazard development," he said. "It can't be done piecemeal."

One of the first initiatives has been to focus on Butler Creek, where the city already has acquired five parcels totaling 75 acres. An additional 105 acres, including the historic Windsor Spring property, are under discussion.

The strategy to preserve buffers along streams and floodplains will employ a combination of purchases and conservation easements - in which landowners gain tax benefits in exchange for not developing the property.

Key areas near downtown Augusta that warrant future consideration include the Augusta Canal - and in particular a portion near Interstate 20 owned by Brandenburg Properties, a California-based developer.

The city and the Augusta Canal Authority plan to acquire a 200-foot buffer to separate the scenic natural area along the canal from potential development on the privately held land.

Phinizy Swamp and the adjacent Merry Brickyard ponds near downtown Augusta also represent great potential as future greenspace, Mr. Copenhaver said.

Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119, or rpavey@augustachronicle.com.

Impact: Augusta's greenspace program will help avoid erosion, pollution and flood damage by buffering sensitive areas from development.