UGA video series explores coastal resilience success stories in Georgia

Georgia’s low-lying coastal communities are on the front lines of sea level rise, storm surge and flooding.

A new video series developed by UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant shares how communities are responding to these challenges by identifying solutions that protect infrastructure and coastal habitats.

The six-part series, “Faces of Resiliency,” features interviews with coastal residents and researchers who share stories of adapting to coastal hazards through community engagement and collaboration with scientists, nonprofits and government agencies.

“The videos can serve as a roadmap for other communities facing similar issues,” said Anne Lindsay, associate director of education at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant and lead on the project. “They show how resilience projects can be successful by involving communities in planning and implementing science-based solutions.”

Each video highlights a different example of how communities are increasing resilience, including preserving salt marsh habitat, implementing green infrastructure, restoring dunes, engaging in environmental justice and community planning, and improving science communication.

Descriptions for each video are provided below. Watch all of them at https://gacoast.uga.edu/faces/

Conserving Georgia’s Salt Marshes
Georgia’s extensive salt marshes protect the coast by reducing erosion, buffering wave energy and filtering runoff. Rising sea levels are causing marshes to migrate inland; however, development along estuarine shorelines can impede their natural migration. Living shorelines are a form of green infrastructure that use oysters and native plants to stabilize shorelines while providing space for marshes to migrate in the future.

Adapting with Green Infrastructure
Roads, buildings, or parking lots are a necessary part of communities but these impervious surfaces lead to stormwater runoff that carries pollutants to local waterways, impacting human and environmental health. Green infrastructure uses nature-based materials to treat and filter stormwater, like the large-scale bioretention project implemented at Howard Coffin Park in Brunswick that is improving water quality of the surrounding area.

Restoring Dunes to Protect Coastal Communities
Storm surge from hurricanes has significant impacts on coastal communities. Healthy dune systems act as a natural barrier to storm surge. Communities like the City of Tybee Island are conserving and restoring Georgia’s coastal dunes by raising their elevation, planting grasses and installing beach fences that help build and protect these habitats.

Enhancing Equity in Flood Resilience
Marginalized communities in coastal Georgia are at risk of flooding due to higher density housing, less green space and failing stormwater management systems. Residents in Savannah and Brunswick are getting involved in the decision-making process by working with municipalities to raise awareness of the need to adapt infrastructure in flooding hotspots and build resilience.

Planning for Future Flooding and Sea Level Rise
As sea levels rise and flooding becomes more frequent Georgia’s coastal municipalities and resource managers are proactively planning ahead by elevating homes and participating in federal programs that reward communities for implementing resilience measures.

Improving Flood Literacy in Coastal Georgia
Terms related to flood hazards are being used inconsistently among professionals that work in coastal management and emergency response. This can create confusion among residents who rely on experts for information during extreme weather events. The Georgia Flood Literacy Project is establishing consistent definitions and flood terminology to be used by professionals, improving communication and public safety.

The Faces of Resiliency project was funded by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Coastal Resources Division. Learn more about the project at https://gacoast.uga.edu/faces/

UGA students develop plan to improve infrastructure at Fort Pulaski so that the site can remain open to tourists

A trio of UGA engineering students have found a way to maintain the Fort Pulaski National Monument site as a viable destination for park visitors for the foreseeable future.

Sea level rise, severe storms and more frequent flooding have made it difficult for the wastewater in the park’s septic drain fields to filter out through the soil.

“That could mean contaminated water is rising up onto the ground, and that’s not safe for humans or the environment in general,” said Sarah Pierce, a recently graduated senior who worked on the project.

Without a way to safely remove the waste, the park would not be able to continue welcoming the more than 350,000 guests who visit the National Park Service’s Civil War battle site each year. Currently, there are only six functioning toilets and two functioning urinals on the property.

Fort Pulaski National Monument

Fort Pulaski National Monument, located on Cockspur Island. The Civil War battle site welcomes more than 350,000 guests per year.

Pierce and fellow College of Engineering seniors Emily Mitchell and Sawyer Soucie spent the past year working with UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant on a senior capstone project to develop a sustainable solution that would be resilient to changing water levels and not harm the protected marshlands that make up the majority of the park.

The team studied the infrastructure on Cockspur Island, where the park and a U.S. Coast Guard station are located, looking at sea level rise projections, soil composition and wastewater volume. They ultimately proposed three different ideas: building an improved, mounded septic system; developing a mini wastewater treatment plant on Cockspur Island; and installing a network of pipes to transport the wastewater to the municipal wastewater treatment facility on neighboring Tybee Island.

The piping option was the clear choice. While all three proposals would solve the park’s issues in the short term, piping the wastewater off the island was the only solution that could permanently eliminate the need for the 13 septic systems on the island, including those used by the Coast Guard.

“Environmentally it’s safest for the long-term,” said Mark Risse, director of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant and a mentor to the engineering students on the project. “On a barrier island with sandy soil and increasingly high-water tables, [septic systems] are just less and less effective and more and more likely to cause environmental degradation.”

The big question was whether the City of Tybee Island, which is facing some of the same challenges with rising sea levels, would be willing to take on the additional waste from the fort. But city officials recognized that protecting the national monument would benefit the entire region, which relies heavily on tourism as a local revenue source. The students’ designs for the pipeline included the possibility of tying in waste from restaurants and retail shops on the outskirts of Tybee Island, which could soon face the same issues with their septic service.

“We were really being baptized by fire,” Soucie said of the project. “It’s more than just designing a septic system or a wastewater system. It’s about all these moving parts and trying to get them moving in the right direction. It’s been a lot of learning, which is exciting.”

The students virtually showcased their final presentation to Fort Pulaski administrators, Tybee Island officials and representatives from both the U.S. National Park Service and Coast Guard at the end of the spring semester.

Fort Pulaski superintendent Melissa Memory, herself a 1989 graduate from the Department of Anthropology at UGA, was thrilled by the quality of the students’ work.

“They’ve blown it out of the water metaphorically and literally with how far they’ve taken this project,” said Memory. “A lot of student projects are good at concepts, but it’s rare that they get it this far and give us a clear direction on path forward…They far exceeded our expectations for what they’d be able to do for us.”

Consultants are already working on pipeline designs and concepts based on the students’ presentation, which represents significant savings for the fort. Memory and US Park Service officials are exploring ways to finance the project.

A graph of the current and proposed sewer lines.

The sewer line proposed by the UGA engineering students would replace Fort Pulaski’s current septic system, which has been failing due to rising sea levels.

For the students, the project provided an opportunity to put their academic education to the test in the real world.

“This is a huge passion of mine,” Mitchell said. “Water quality engineering specifically. I’ll be pursuing this in the future, and this is a major steppingstone in my career. I’m just extremely grateful to be on such an incredible project like this, especially with so many stakeholders and importance of everyone involved.”

The demand for coastal engineering will only increase in the years to come. The students’ efforts — both in engineering and politics — is a showcase for how communities need to work together to combat the growing effects of sea level rise, said Brian Bledsoe, director of the College of Engineering’s Institute for Resilient Infrastructure Systems who mentored the students on the Fort Pulaski project.

“Fort Pulaski is not the only park or monument that’s grappling with having to adapt to climate change and sea level rise and a rapidly changing world,” Bledsoe said. “I think this could be a good example of how partnerships with adjacent communities can work. When we share infrastructure, we can keep our options open and maybe find more long-term and cost-effective solutions. Hopefully this is something that the park service can hold up as an example of what other entities can do.”

Georgia Sea Grant awards funding for seven coastal research projects

The Georgia Sea Grant College Program at the University of Georgia has announced funding for seven new projects that will advance coastal science in Georgia. The diverse projects include investigations into policy barriers related to oyster aquaculture, tidal river flooding in upland communities, the development of artificial bait for the commercial blue crab fishery, impacts of black gill on shrimp, oyster pathogens, and the function of salt marsh ecosystems.

The projects are part of Georgia Sea Grant’s request for proposals process, which occurs every two years to address research priorities identified by coastal stakeholders.

This year, Georgia Sea Grant is partnering with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Ocean Acidification to fund a project looking at whether sediments increase or decrease the susceptibility of Georgia’s coastal waters to ocean acidification.

“By leveraging our federal partnerships, we can expand coastal research that addresses Georgia stakeholder concerns,” said Mark Risse, director of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “These projects will help coastal communities, allow resource managers to plan and implement better policies, and engage scientists throughout Georgia in applied research and outreach.

The two-year projects include researchers from five universities in the state, including: The University of Georgia, Savannah State University, Georgia College, the Georgia Institute of Technology and Georgia Southern University.

The 2020-2022 research projects and the lead investigators are:

  • Optimizing Georgia’s Shrimp Fishery in the Age of Black Gill – Marc Frischer, University of Georgia
  • Addressing Policy Barriers and Promoting Opportunities for the Success of Oyster Aquaculture in Georgia – Scott Pippin, University of Georgia
  • Tidal Channel Network Dynamics and Salt Marsh Ecosystem Functioning along the Georgia Coast – Amanda Spivak, University of Georgia
  • Expanded Head of Tide Determination of Georgia’s Coastal Rivers: Influences of Upland Riverine Flooding, Tidal Inundation, and Stochastic/Storm-surge Events – Christopher Hintz, Savannah State University
  • Field Testing a New Synthetic Sustainable Bait for Georgia’s Blue Crab Fishing Industry – Charles Derby, Georgia College
  • Role of Sediments in the Susceptibility to Ocean Acidification in Coastal Habitats – Martial Taillefert, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • How do Environmental Conditions and Oyster Population Genetics Influence Pathogen Prevalence and Intensity? – John Carroll, Georgia Southern University

Information about Georgia Sea Grant research topics, funding and current opportunities can be found at https://gacoast.uga.edu/research/funding/current-projects/

UGA helps coastal communities address a potential public health crisis: Failing septic tanks that contaminate groundwater

Ashley Cooper-Heath and her husband had lived in a house on the banks of the St. Mary’s River in Camden County for about a decade when they noticed that their septic tank was leaking, spilling sewage into the river.

“I really didn’t want to have to spend the money replacing it, but I knew at some point we were going to have to,” Cooper-Heath said.

Fortunately for her, Camden County was on top of the problem. The county had assessed its septic systems and identified 21 that were failing, including Cooper-Heath’s. Using a grant from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the county replaced the failing septic systems with mounded systems that are better suited to the local environmental conditions because of the high groundwater table.

“I understand why they don’t dig into the ground because we’re right next to the water and if anything should leak it goes into the (river),” Cooper-Heath says. “Everybody is starting to see the importance now.”


A mounded septic system replaced Ashley Cooper Heath’s failing septic system.

In an effort to assist other property owners along the coast, UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant is mapping every septic system in an 11-county region and adding that information to a database that helps officials recognize and address septic system failures before a serious public health crisis can occur. It also will help communities better plan when they need to install new septic tanks to accommodate growth.

“Georgia is one of the first states in the country to develop a comprehensive inventory of existing septic tanks in the entire coastal region,” says Mark Risse, director of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant and lead on the septic system mapping project. “This should allow us to better manage these systems in the future and avoid problems that other rapidly growing coastal areas have experienced.”

Camden County was one of the first of the coastal counties to address the problem of failing septic tanks. Most of the failing systems were installed in areas with poor soil that were prone to flooding, said Terry Ferrell, environmental health manager for the Camden County Coastal Health District. They were also installed before 2000, when the state passed a rule requiring septic tanks be separated from the groundwater table by at least one- to two-feet.

Since replacing the failing or failed systems, water quality samples taken near those sites have shown a decrease in bacteria levels. Ferrell said 20-30 septic systems in the watershed will be replaced in the next phase of the project.

In rural Georgia, where centralized wastewater treatment facilities are few and far between, most homes rely on underground septic systems to store and treat wastewater. Each system has its own drain field where effluent from the tank is slowly discharged into the soil, which treats the wastewater by removing harmful bacteria and nutrients before reaching the groundwater.

The problem is that as sea levels rise, so too does the groundwater table, leaving less soil to filter out contaminants before it reaches the groundwater. Increased flooding also leaves the ground more saturated, rendering the drain field temporarily ineffective and leading to septic system failure. These hazards are threatening as many as 60,000 septic systems in coastal Georgia.

septic performance

failing septic

When septic failures occur, bacteria and viruses from human waste can enter the groundwater and coastal waterways, making people sick. Coming into contact with this polluted water may result in symptoms that range from vomiting to more severe illnesses like typhoid or dysentery. Poor water quality can also shut down public beaches and restrict shellfish harvesting in certain areas, impacting Georgia’s tourism and commercial fishing industries. Excess pollutants from failing systems that make their way to tidal creeks and estuaries can cause algal blooms, which deplete oxygen levels in the water and kill fish.

“As sea level rise leads to a higher groundwater table, and encroaches on the septic drain field, even the newer systems will begin failing,” says Scott Pippin, a faculty member with UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government. Both the Vinson Institute and Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant are UGA Public Service and Outreach units. “It is important that communities have plans in place to deal with these issues down the road.”

That’s where the database becomes essential. With funding from the Department of Natural Resources Coastal Resource Division and the Environmental Protection Agency, the inventory has been expanded to show which septic systems might be at risk based on other factors in the database, such as the likelihood of flooding, sea level rise or pollution. Anyone can access the data to make informed decisions about installing septic systems in certain locations. It also makes it easier for conservation groups and researchers to study or better monitor high risk areas.

So far, the septic inventory includes a total of 57,865 septic tanks in eight of the 11 counties. The team is still entering data from Charlton, Brantley and Wayne counties.

Pippin, in partnership with the UGA Institute for Resilient Infrastructure Systems, has funding from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration to use the septic inventory to assess present and future vulnerabilities of septic systems in Bryan County, west of Savannah and home to the Fort Stewart Army Base.

According to the 2016 U.S. Census, Bryan County was the second fastest-growing county in Georgia. As population growth and coastal development increases, improving management and planning for future on-site septic systems in these vulnerable, rural areas becomes increasingly important.

“We’re using inventory data as well as groundwater and sea level rise data,” Pippin says, “to develop a method for evaluating septic system vulnerability and potential site suitability for septic tanks that’s based on present coastal conditions as well as future conditions.”

You can access the database at https://www.welstrom.com/coastal/

Writer: Emily Kenworthy, ekenworthy@uga.edu, 912-598-2348
Contact: Mark Risse, mrisse@uga.edu, 706-542-5956

UGA receives $50,000 grant from AT&T to address flooding in Athens-Clarke County

A grant from AT&T will help an interdisciplinary team of UGA faculty assess long-term flood frequency and severity for Athens-Clarke County in order to better plan for future development and infrastructure investments.

Paul Chambers Jr., regional director of external affairs for AT&T presented the check to Jennifer Frum, UGA vice president for Public Service and Outreach, and Mark Risse, director of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. Risse will work with Shana Jones, planning and environmental services program manager at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, and Brian Bledsoe, the UGA Athletic Association Professor in Resilient Infrastructure, in the UGA College of Engineering. Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant and the Carl Vinson Institute of Government are UGA public service and outreach units.

The UGA project will assess potential future flooding issues for Athens-Clarke County. The county and UGA’s Institute for Resilient Infrastructure Systems will work together to develop flood inundation maps, visualizations and a modeling framework for rapidly assessing flooding pressure points at the municipal scale. These products will create an improved understanding of future flood hazards and inform long-term planning and infrastructure investment priorities.

UGA is one of five southeastern institutions selected for AT&T’s Climate Resiliency Community Challenge, a project designed to help communities in the United State build a resistance to climate change. The teams will use data commissioned by AT&T from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory and funding from AT&T to conduct innovative research on climate impacts and community responses in the southeastern United States.

UGA Brunswick Station Open House scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 26

UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant is hosting its second open house at the Brunswick Station on Sept. 26 from 4-7 p.m.

Visitors of all ages are invited to tour the facility, engage with coastal experts, and learn about Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s research, education and extension efforts on the coast.

“The whole idea is to connect people in the community to the resources that we have here at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant,” said Bryan Fluech, associate marine extension director. “From helping residents prepare for hurricanes to installing a rain garden, we have in-house experts ready and willing to serve people on the coast.”

Staff will have stations set up throughout the facility that feature live marine animals and reptiles, hands-on marine debris activities and information about Georgia’s shellfish industry.

A new virtual reality demonstration station will allow visitors to experience what it’s like when an 8-foot storm surge impacts a home on the coast. The program, which was developed in collaboration with the Games and Virtual Environments Lab in the UGA Grady College and Mass Communication, takes users through a hurricane event with storm surge and then allows them to elevate their house and obtain flood insurance to protect their family and property against future flood risks.

The R/V Georgia Bulldog, a 72-foot shrimp trawler that has been converted into a multipurpose research vessel, will be open to visitors. The Bulldog has been providing logistical support for research projects that involve fishery development, bottom mapping and sea turtle conservation since the 1980s.

Visitors are also invited to explore the station’s half-acre native plant demonstration garden with more than 115 types of native plants.

Staff at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s Brunswick Station have been serving coastal Georgia communities for over 40 years, conducting important water quality research, ensuring safe seafood, preparing communities for coastal hazards and educating Georgians about stormwater management.

Additional details about the event can be found here: https://gacoast.uga.edu/event/brunswick-station-open-house/

Learn more about Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant at https://gacoast.uga.edu/.

Contact: Emily Kenworthy, 912-598-2340 ext. 107, ekenworthy@uga.edu

Highs and Lows: Using novel technology to study flooding in coastal Georgia

UGA researchers are using time lapse cameras and drones to get a birds-eye view of coastal flooding in the lowcountry. The innovative approach is providing visual data on impacts of flooding in natural and developed areas on Jekyll Island, one of Georgia’s most visited barrier islands.

“Essentially, our available land is being compressed between our water and our hard infrastructure – what we call the coastal squeeze,” says Kimberly Andrews, assistant research scientist at the UGA Odum School of Ecology, whose research is funded through Georgia Sea Grant. “We are using the cameras to help determine which areas are currently compromised by flooding and erosion, and which areas we anticipate being compromised within the next 5 years.”

Andrews, who has been working out of the UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant offices in Brunswick, in 2016 deployed 15 cameras at sites around Jekyll Island as part of a collaborative project with Fraser Shilling, director of the University of California-Davis Road Ecology Center.

Each camera takes a photo every five minutes, year-round, allowing researchers to conduct rapid assessments of short-term flooding impacts to natural areas and built infrastructure, like roads or marinas.

“My initial thinking was that if you take time lapse images of a shoreline and you make a little movie out of it, you can see how fast things are changing,” says Shilling, who, in 2014, launched the time lapse camera monitoring project 2,800 miles away in San Francisco Bay. “It was a way to illustrate, visually, that these changes are happening right now.”

Andrews’ attraction to the technology is because it collects continuous, visual data without putting people in harm’s way. During Hurricane Irma, in September 2017, several of the cameras continued to take photos of the hazardous conditions after residents on the island had evacuated. Cameras on Driftwood Beach, a popular public beach on Jekyll Island, captured flooding from storm surge and shoreline erosion throughout the duration of the hurricane. Another camera on the Jekyll Island Causeway showed the water almost reaching the road before receding.

View from one of the time lapse cameras on Highway 17.

The data were included in reports to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and shared with local landowners and management agencies, so they could better understand how the build landscape is impacted by the storm.

After Hurricane Irma, Andrews received rapid response funding from Georgia Sea Grant and the UGA Office of Research able to expand the project to include sites on Tybee Island. She’s also incorporating drone sampling as a way of measuring erosion before and after major storms using highly accurate, fine-scale aerial imagery.

As coastal development increases, these data can be used to inform infrastructure managers, engineers and other coastal practitioners of threats to existing infrastructure, allowing them to better plan for and adapt to coastal flooding and shoreline erosion. Resource managers and marine scientists can use the data to study how changes to coastal habitats are impacting wildlife, like migratory shorebirds or sea turtles that use Georgia’s beaches and salt marshes for nesting and feeding.

“It’s not new science that these are mobile systems, but we have to figure out how to have stabilization and security for human societies as well as the ecological infrastructure that rely on the availability of shorelines,” says Andrews.

In an effort to expand coastal monitoring efforts using drones and time lapse cameras, Andrews and Shilling are developing protocols to share with coastal practitioners so they employ similar techniques in other coastal areas.

“We’re not only trying to get the most accurate assessment of coastal change, but we want to produce something that will help mobilize and empower other coastal communities,” says Andrews.

Writer: Emily Woodward Kenworthy, ewoodward@uga.edu, 912.598.2348
Contact: Kimberly Andrews, kma77@uga.edu, 912-261-3975


UGA assisting Savannah with program that offers flood relief, greenspace and jobs

Savannah lost a lot of trees in Hurricanes Matthew and Irma.

UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant is helping restore the lost greenspace in order to decrease flood risk and beautify barren space, while training Savannah residents in landscape design and infrastructure improvements.

The “Green Infrastructure to Green Jobs,” funded by the Southeast Sustainable Communities Fund, will create urban tree nurseries in low-lying, flood-prone neighborhoods in the city.

“We’ve been looking at how much Savannah’s urban tree nursery had been lost over the decades,” says Nick Deffley, sustainability director for the city of Savannah and lead on the project. “We were losing a lot of trees to development, some were just getting old, and we had two hurricanes in the last three years that took a toll as well.”

The hurricanes—Matthew in October 2016 and Irma in September 2017—caused significant damage to Savannah’s tree canopy, with Hurricane Matthew costing over $13 million in tree debris removal and unknown losses in water storage from mature trees. The City of Savannah owns over 350 flood-prone FEMA lots that are underutilized community assets. As coastal Georgia experiences extremes in weather, municipal governments are looking to green infrastructure, such as tree canopies, to improve their resilience to major storm events.

Deffley is working with a team of experts, including land-use and resiliency specialists at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, to engage the members of the community in the project, helping them understand their risks and recognize the benefits of implementing green infrastructure, such as tree canopies.

Since the project launched in 2018, more than 500 trees have been planted at three urban tree nurseries by trainees in the Landscape Management Apprenticeship Program, an innovative workforce development program that trains residents in arbor care, plant identification, installation and maintenance.

The trainees involved in the program were recruited through two events hosted by the city of Savannah and WorkSource Coastal, a federally funded program designed to assist coastal residents in job training and career placement.

Last December, the trainees attended a four-day training that was modeled after the Georgia Certified Landscape Professional program, developed by UGA Cooperative Extension’s Center for Urban Agriculture. They heard from guest speakers with expertise in green infrastructure and landscaping, and attended a field trip to the UGA Botanical Garden where they practiced planting trees and installing irrigation systems.

The experience is exposing them to green industry careers and helped light the pathway to employment and advancement through skill development and professional certification.

“The whole intent is to not only introduce all of these folks to potential employers in this field, but it’s to really do everything we can to get them placed in jobs that are much more sustaining,” says Deffley.

UGA Cooperative Extension specialists trained participants in fundamental landscaping skills, including plant ID, planting practices and maintenance.

Through the traineeship, 22-year-old Jason Smith has been able to secure a job with Victory Gardens, a professional landscaping company based in Savannah that focuses on installing landscapes that are ecologically sound.

“Every skill that I learn with Nick, I apply them here every day,” says Smith, who has an associate degree in graphic design from Briarcliffe College in New York. “This job incorporates design in outdoor work. I love nature. I love the color green. It’s a pathway for me to express myself while working.”

At the end of the year-long trainee program, Smith and four other participants will take a two-part landscape management certification test that includes a hands-on and a written component. To help them prepare, they are assisting with community beautification projects throughout the city that require them to apply the landscaping knowledge that they are gaining through the program.

They spent most of the spring and summer helping with one of the beautification projects, which involved clearing several overgrown FEMA lots on 52nd Street near Mills B. Lane. The area has long been a concern for residents due to illegal dumping. Now that the site is cleared, the city can more easily access and regularly maintain the area, which will eventually be planted with native flowering shrubs.

“Hopefully it’ll be a nice spot that people can come and look at instead of being afraid of,” says Deffley.

Additional sites for beautification include East Savannah, where project partners are working with members of the community to plant fruit trees in planter boxes built by a local resident out of recycled wooden pallets. The boxes will be painted by local elementary school students with Loop it up Savannah, a nonprofit that brings creative art experiences to the children and families of Savannah.

West Savannah residents have requested a large “Welcome to West Side” mural as a way of building a sense of pride among residents in the community.

Through these community projects, the trainees are not only building new skills that are vital to increasing green infrastructure in Savannah, but they are educating residents in the area about how these initiatives are beneficial to people and the environment.

“We’re out here three days a week, and every day people ask, ‘what are you guys doing?’” says Robert Hartwell, who is participating in the landscaping program. “People need to know about this stuff, you know? “It starts with the community.”

Robert Hartwell is one of 12 participants in the Green Infrastructure to Green Jobs training program.

Hartwell is taking steps towards starting his own his own landscaping business, first forming an LLC (limited liability company) then buying a pick-up truck and landscaping tools.

“That’s what’s so good about this program. It teaches you all the steps,” says Hartwell.

Deffley hopes the project encourages the trainees and people in the community to be a little more engaged in nature and understand the true benefit of trees.

“Encouraging them to provide feedback, share ideas and having them help implement the projects; I think that’s how we start that longer term buy-in,” says Deffley.

Additional project partners include the Savannah Tree Foundation, Victory Gardens, Work Source Georgia and the Chatham County-Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission. The Kendeda Fund is also providing support for the initiative.

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