Turner v. Georgia River NetworkAnnotate this Case
The Supreme Court granted petitions for certiorari filed by appellants Judson Turner, the Director of the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and the Grady County Board of Commissioners. They appealed the Court of Appeals' decision in "Georgia River Network v. Turner," (762 SE2d 123 (2014)). In 2010, Grady County received federal approval to construct a 960-acre fishing lake. The project also entailed building a large dam and inundating wetlands and nine miles of streams to create the lake. To proceed with the project, Grady County was required to apply for a buffer variance through the EPD in order to disturb the stream waters that would be affected by the project. Non-profit appellees Georgia River Network and American Rivers challenged the variance, arguing that Grady County's application was deficient because it failed to address buffers for the wetlands that would also be affected by the project. The Director granted the variance over appellees' objections. In a separate letter, the EPD advised appellees that wetlands did not require buffers because they generally lack wrested vegetation and were not subject to a variance request. An ALJ overturned the variance, reasoning that OCGA 12-7-6 (b) (15) (A) of the Erosion and Sedimentation Act required a buffer for all state waters, including wetlands. The Director and Grady County filed challenged the ALJ's decision in the superior courts of Fulton County and Grady County, respectively. On the substantive issue of the construction and interpretation of OCGA 12-7-6 (b) (15) (A), both trial courts determined that the Director's construction of the statute was correct and that the buffer requirement only applies to state waters that have wrested vegetation. Appellees then appealed to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals found the ALJ had not erred and reversed the decisions of the trial courts. After its review, the Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals erred in its judgment, and reversed.