Planning issues abound in the Red Hills Region

Expansion of commercial poultry operations in the Red Hills

Over the last year, Grady County has become a popular destination for commercial poultry growers in southwest Georgia. The Cairo Messenger newspaper reported in February that countywide, as many as 30 new commercial poultry barns are under consideration in Grady County. Last year, the County issued permits for at least 32 commercial poultry barns.

Poultry HousesModern commercial poultry barns range from 500 to 600 feet long by 50 feet wide and accommodate 25,000 to 30,000 chickens. Poultry barns can accommodate five “grow-outs” of birds per year (each with a 9-week growing cycle). Each chicken produces an average of 2 to 2.5 pounds of chicken manure per grow-out, meaning one chicken barn can produce between 250,000 and 300,000 pounds of manure per year. Given the common practice of co-locating chicken barns (six or more barns on the same site is common) and the massive amount of waste produced, properly storing and disposing of chicken litter (manure plus bedding material) poses significant challenges, especially in regard to protecting surface and groundwater quality.

Tall Timbers’ planning staff is reviewing local ordinances from other communities with active commercial poultry operations, researching poultry manure-storage best management practices, and talking to poultry researchers to inform local officials about options for protecting water quality of rivers, streams, and groundwater while continuing to support this industry.

Leon County Comprehensive Plan Reform

At the direction of the Leon County Board of Commissioners, the Tallahassee-Leon County Planning Department is in the early stages of a significant reform of the Future Land Use element of the community’s Comprehensive Plan. The Future Land Use element guides the location, timing, and pattern of development for all land uses in Florida’s capital county. The intent of the update is to comprehensively review the Future Land Use element, align the Plan with the community’s stated vision (established through a series of high-profile public visioning efforts), remove outdated policies, and integrate the Future Land Use element and the Mobility element to more efficiently accomplish land use and transportation goals.

Tall Timbers’ staff is serving on a Citizen Focus Group, providing feedback on the review process. An important component of this review—and one that Tall Timbers’ staff will focus upon—is recognizing and preserving goals, objectives, policies, and tools that have been effective at guiding growth and protecting critical natural resources, rural lands, and rural land use traditions. At the same time, Tall Timbers’ staff will work with others to identify opportunities to improve the quality of development outcomes guided by the Future Land Use element. This reform process will include opportunities for community participation and is expected to take two years to compete.

Thomasville Regional Airport Runway Extension

The Aucilla River in FloridaA construction project at the Thomasville Regional Airport will soon add an additional 500 feet to the length of the longest runway at the airport (Runway 22). This will allow safer take-offs and landings for aircraft in a variety of weather conditions. The construction on Runway 22 will result in impacts to Lost Creek, southwest of the airport, as well as to uplands buffering Lost Creek. Lost Creek is a tributary of the Aucilla River, which is designated an Outstanding Florida Waterbody. Tall Timbers has extensive conservation interests along the Aucilla River and in its watershed, including more than 22,400 acres permanently protected by conservation easements. Tall Timbers’ staff have met with City of Thomasville engineering staff and provided recommendations for mitigating potential impacts to the Aucilla River during construction of the runway extension. These recommendations, which included increased water quality monitoring and enhanced stormwater management, are under consideration. The project will begin construction within approximately two months.

Sabal Trail Pipeline

On February 2, 2016, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a certificate to Sabal Trail Transmission, LLC to construct and operate a 36” natural gas pipeline from Alabama, through Georgia, to Central Florida. This approval comes on the heels of a reversal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in December 2015 of “very significant concerns” identified by the Agency two months earlier.

A number of groups, including the Flint Riverkeeper, the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, the Kiokee-Flint Group (Georgia landowners), and the Sierra Club are challenging the issuance of the FERC certificate as well as several required environmental permits. More recently, on March 22nd, the Georgia House of Representatives rejected Georgia Senate Resolution 954 to grant Sabal Trail right of way easements to allow pipeline river crossings under the Chattahoochee, Flint, Ochlockonee, and Withlacoochee Rivers in South Georgia.

Tall Timbers has not taken a formal positon on the Sabal Trail Pipeline, but did communicate several concerns to the FERC in our public comment letter submitted in October 2015. Tall Timbers’ concerns focused on: the vulnerability of the Karst geology in Dougherty County and the resulting potential for adverse impacts to local drinking water supplies; the potential for ground subsidence leading to pipeline failure (more than 300 sinkholes formed in the area of the proposed pipeline in Dougherty County following flooding in 1994); potential impacts to springs, many of which are unmapped in Southwest Georgia and which provide a direct connection to the aquifer; and the possibility of negative impacts associated with horizontal drilling at crossing points along the Flint and Ochlockonee Rivers on which Tall Timbers holds conservation easements.

Sabal Trail Transmission, LLC is moving ahead with eminent domain lawsuits against 160 landowners in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida and could file a suit against the State of Georgia to obtain the right of way under the aforementioned rivers. Sabal Trail has stated that the pipeline must be under construction by June 21, 2016 and in service by May 1, 2017.

For additional information about the land use issues discussed in this update, please contact Red Hills Planning Coordinator Neil Fleckenstein at or 850-893-4153, ext. 335.

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