Hearings to cover Cumberland Island tour plans

8 09 2008

ST. MARYS, Ga. — Nearly 45,000 people visit Cumberland Island National Seashore annually, but few get a chance to see much of the 17-mile-long barrier island.

That’s because walking is the only way to get anywhere on the island after a ferry drops off visitors at a dock near the south end of the island.

Most don’t have the time or stamina to hike to some of the well-known historic areas such as Plum Orchard mansion, High Point Half-Moon historic district, or the First African Baptist Church, where John Kennedy Jr. was married in 1996.


But with the passage of the Cumberland Island Wilderness Boundary Act in December 2004, Congress created a way to give visitors more access to the island without walking as far as 30 miles roundtrip.

The legislation removed three roads and the High Point Half-Moon historic district from wilderness or potential wilderness protection. The legislation also requires the National Park Service to offer no fewer than five and no more than eight vehicle tours to the north end of the island each day.

The challenge now is to determine the best way to shuttle visitors to the north end of the island, who will offer the tours, how much it will cost and where to take visitors.

Those issues will be discussed this month in St. Marys and Atlanta in a series of public hearings scheduled on implementing the plan. The dates of the hearings are expected to be announced this week when a draft of the proposed plan is released, Park Service officials said.

No funding for the vehicle tours was addressed in the legislation mandating the tours.

Regardless of any changes after the hearings, Park Service officials said the plan will have a major impact on the national seashore.

Read on here.

NBAF foes vow to sue over proposed animal disease lab in Athens

8 09 2008

A group opposed to a massive animal disease research laboratory says it will sue if the U.S. Department of Homeland Security chooses to build the lab in Athens.

Athens FAQ, a group formed to fight the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility, submitted a 132-page comment to Homeland Security last week laying the groundwork for a lawsuit should federal officials pick a 67-acre University of Georgia-owned site off South Milledge Avenue from among five finalists.

“That site is just not appropriate for NBAF, and we have the National Environmental Protection Act on our side,” FAQ co-founder Grady Thrasher said. “They can’t twist and turn … to say it won’t be an environmental disaster.”

The document, prepared by the Atlanta environmental law firm Stack & Associates, alleges that Homeland Security violated federal sunshine and environmental laws, criticizes a 1,000-page federal study of potential sites for the NBAF and makes the case for building the lab on Plum Island, N.Y., home of the Animal Disease Center that NBAF is designed replace.

“(B)ringing deadly foreign diseases onto the mainland puts the entire nation at great risk, and is clearly not justified considering the safer location of Plum Island and Homeland Security’s overarching mandate to protect the public,” the comment says. “A mainland NBAF would not protect the general public, the environment, the economy or the United States’ security interests.

“An Athens, Georgia, NBAF is an especially outrageous option.”

Read on here.