Environmental Policy at the Local Level
In this first ESS EcoReport on environmental issues in Sandy Springs we will share an overview of our experience with the restoration of a Marsh Creek tributary to illustrate how a seemingly problematic Gratuities Clause in the State Constitution was navigated to allow us to perform invasive species eradication (clear non-native kudzu and privet which was choking the tributary) for a healthier watershed.
“Invasive species are among the leading threats to native wildlife. Approximately 42 percent of threatened or endangered species are at risk due to invasive species.” – National Wildlife Federation
In the Beginning …
While examining options for the creation of a Marsh Creek Greenway, a sustainable habitat along the would sustain birds, wildlife, and pollinators (a stretch of creek that could be preserved and support a pedestrian path behind the Sandy Springs Tennis Center) ESS became aware that a south tributary of the creek was overgrown with harmful invasive plants, along with portions of Marsh Creek itself and that if we able to fund a clean-up effort focused on the tributary – this could be Phase I of a healthy ecology restoration for the Greenway section.
The ESS Board Becomes More Formally Interested In Restoring a Tributary to Marsh Creek
In 2017 the ESS board began exploring options for undertaking a stream restoration project that would require funding to engage invasive species eradication in a way that was not harmful to native plant species and wildlife.
In 2018 Stream Cleanup Runs Into the Gratuities Clause of the Georgia Constitution
In early 2018 the ESS board decided to sponsor a walkthrough of the proposed restoration site for council members and staff so that they could get a close-up view of the environmental damage that kudzu was causing. ESS also provided cleanup estimates to council members and staff.
Although there was positive feedback from council members and city staff the City did not fund a tributary restoration project during that budget cycle, explaining later that the Gratuities Clause of the State Constitution prohibited the use of public money to improve private property.
Staff also indicated that they would address invasive species issues on city owned lands that bordered the Marsh Creek Tributary in question and suggested that ESS arrange for funding to address invasive species issues on the private property that bordered the tributary in question.
Working Within the Gratuities Clause of the State Constitution
Fortunately Sandy Springs has a gem of a civic institution in the Sandy Springs Society. The Society thoroughly embraced the idea of removing invasive species for the purpose of creating sustainable wildlife habitats and was willing to help fund the project. As a result of our partnership with the Society we now have the invasive species under control along the tributary and have planted twenty-five native fruit bearing shrubs along the tributary.
A Better Way to Promote Environmental Projects
What we learned is that there is a better way to promote environmental projects than the approach described above. The Georgia Municipal Association makes the point that there is no “gratuity” involved where local government is recovering substantial benefits in return.
A perfect illustration of the GMA’S point is the city’s successful tree planting partnership with Trees Atlanta. The City of Sandy Springs provides the money for Trees Atlanta to order and plant trees on private, residential properties.
By applying this successful method of managing a public/private partnership to initiatives relating to reforestation of the urban canopy, deployment of green infrastructure, stream health and wildlife protection the City is able to get on-board with more projects and give Sandy Springs environmentalism a boost.