Georgia’s state parks and historic sites, coupled with our public lands managed for wildlife and research purposes, are excellent resources for our citizens and draw tourists from all over the southeast and the nation. Georgians are also lucky to have access to over 500,000 acres of public waters and 16,000 miles of streams and rivers. Our Georgia state parks attract 11 million visitors a year, which provides our state with an economic value of $1 billion and over 10,000 local jobs.
Georgia’s hunters, anglers, and boaters, along with others who enjoy spending time outdoors, provide more financial support for Georgia’s conservation efforts than all other conservation groups combined. Their investment in Georgia resulted in state investments of over $44 million for game management, $17 million for fisheries, and $10 million for wildlife conservation. Georgians also purchase specialty license plates to support the preservation of our natural resources, sending $2.4 million directly to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
In this year’s budget, $16 million was included to implement the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act. This program provides funding to state agencies, local governments, and certain other organizations for parks, trails, and conservation efforts all over the state. Additionally, the budget includes almost $17 million in bonds for investment in park projects and improvements for recreation and facilities in our state parks.
During Session, we passed legislation to protect our valuable natural resources and our citizens from environmental hazards that can cause damage. House Bill 857 prohibits the burning of railroad ties treated with creosote or naphthenate compounds to generate commercial electricity.
We also passed Senate Bill 123, which raises the local government surcharge (also called a “tipping fee”) for specific municipal solid waste disposal facilities that accept coal combustion residuals (also known as “coal ash”). These facilities are now required to raise the tipping fee per ton of coal ash disposed of in their facility. This increase in the tipping fee will reduce the coal ash disposed of in Georgia, which will protect our waterways and other natural resources. Additionally, we passed Senate Bill 426, which requires the reporting of a spill or release of ethylene oxide to Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division within 24 hours of discovering the spill or release. Ethylene oxide is valuable for its ability to sterilize sensitive medical devices, but human contact can be dangerous. This critical legislation will provide transparency for Georgians who may be affected by a release of this substance.
Finally, in an essential step for Georgia’s boaters, House Bill 833 was passed by the House and Senate this Session and signed into law by Governor Kemp on June 29, 2020. HB 833, sponsored by Representative Ron Stephens, prevents long-term anchoring in restricted areas of Georgia’s waters unless a permit is issued. These restricted areas are located near marinas, other marine structures, commercial shellfish growing areas, and designated public harvest areas. This legislation will help keep Georgians safe on our waterways and protect our valuable estuaries.
I know that many of you share my love for the great outdoors. I am so proud of the work we have done this year to protect and conserve our natural resources so that future generations can have the same memorable experiences that we have had in Georgia’s forests, fields, and waterways. Thank you all for allowing me to represent Georgia House District 159. It is truly an honor to work for you and this great state. If you have any feedback, do not hesitate to call (404.656.5052), email, or engage on Facebook. If you would like to receive email updates, please visit my website to sign up for my newsletter or email me.
Jon Burns represents District 159, which includes parts of Bulloch County in the Georgia General Assembly where he serves as the House Majority Leader.