IF coastal conservationist Megan Desrosiers was fired up for political pyrotechnics when she moved to Georgia from South Carolina two years ago, she got it right off the bat.
You might remember the April 2014 Environmental Protection Division directive that basically eliminated decades of coastal marsh protection in a sweeping overnight edict.
“It did just ‘boom’ happen,” Desrosiers says of EPD’s now-infamous “Earth Day Memo.” “There wasn’t any warning.”
Derosiers had been in the state for less than a year when the order stunned environmentalists. The episode highlights the very reason why Desrosiers moved here in the first place. The memo takes aim at just about every spartina, crab and oyster from Savannah to St. Marys.
And Desrosiers is the founding director of a new organization, One Hundred Miles, that has nothing less than the entire Georgia coast as its focus area.
“There isn’t another organization that is dedicated to local and state policy advocacy that is completely dedicated to the hundred-mile Georgia coast,” she says.
Of course, many people from both political parties and more than 250 organizations have put their names toward the order’s repeal.
And more generally, the coast already has several environmental groups. At the risk of offending some by omission, I can name four Riverkeepers, the Georgia Conservancy and the Center for a Sustainable Coast as ones with a coastal presence.
“One thing we’re all committed to, all the organizations, is protecting the environment,” she says. “And we all know the more people we have doing that job, the better.”
Desrosiers says One Hundred Miles aims to augment, not compete with, the groups already here.
“I really do think of it as a puzzle. And we’re all a different piece of that puzzle,” she says. “We try really hard not to step on anybody’s toes and communicate very thoroughly with them as to how we can do that.”
Apart from their 11-county focus, One Hundred Miles also is a little different because of its relatively large dedicated coastal staff. They employ six people at their main office in Brunswick. Two Savannah staffers are coming. And they hired the marketing veterans at Orange PR & Marketing to handle promotion.
I think that’s impressive for an upstart. So what are they doing with their resources?
“We need to start focusing not on the justice end of things, on the end where you start cleaning up messes or you fight bad ideas,” Desrosiers says. “We won’t have to do that as much as we would if we started working on the front end of things with developers.”
She points to an example from her time in Charleston, where she worked for 10 years at the Coastal Conservation League. There, she helped to negotiate a deal that solidified an urban growth boundary—a limit to development—by compromising with developers.
Compromise? For some, that’s a dirty word. Developers? For some, that’s the Eye of Sauron.
“Everybody’s a potential partner until they say they’re not going to partner with us,” Desrosiers says. “I’m never going to make a judgment about somebody based on a stereotype. I don’t want anybody to do the same to me.”
Of course, the folks at One Hundred Miles will have to prove their strategy by winning. And they’ll have to set priorities.
I talked with Desrosiers on my podcast about some of them, including watershed protection and planning for sea level rise.
I would wish her “boom” fast success in these matters. But I don’t know if that’s realistic.
“Oh, change happens fast,” she disagrees. “It may feel like the change is incremental, but those increments add up.”