Submerged logs issues rise again

Published 4:01 pm Friday, March 11, 2011

The issue of how to legally and feasibly raise submerged logs from the Flint River and other navigable waters in Georgia has risen again.

Sen. John Bulloch, R-Ochlocknee, has signed on to legislation, SB 218, that would allow sealed bids to dictate the price for the recovery and harvesting of logs on the river bottoms of some of the state’s rivers.

Six years ago, Sen. Bulloch sponsored legislation that was signed into law allowing for the harvesting of the submerged logs, but Bulloch said the Georgia Department of Natural Resources set the permit and other costs associated with harvesting the logs at too high a price. Under the 2006 law, an exclusive two-mile section of a river could be harvested with a $10,000 permit, plus the harvester having to pay a $50,000 bond for damages.

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Bulloch said no one had applied for a permit despite the interest in the logs, particularly from a businessman in Grady County who saw value in the type of exotic wood the submerged logs offer.

Under the proposed bill, which passed unanimously from the Senate Natural Resources and the Environment Committee on Friday; but is “iffy” if it makes it through the cut-off point to continue in the legislative process this year, Bulloch said SB 218 would also put an end to a lawsuit that raised the question of whether the state owns the river bottoms.

The bill would “create a way to recover the logs, and there could be some side benefits with the lawsuit,” Bulloch said Friday.

A logger had successfully contested in court whether the logs were state property since he proved they were not attached to the river bottoms and can be removed. Since the implications could be far-reaching if the state lost the lawsuit’s appeal, the logger said he would drop the appeal if the state devised a more feasible plan to harvest the logs, Bulloch said.

SB 218 said the Department of Natural Resources provides a competitive bid basis to the highest responsible bidder for the harvesting of the deadhead logs. It also says that the DNR is empowered to protect any endangered species and the integrity of the rivers.

The submerged logs are prized pieces of wood.

During the 1800s and early 1900s, the rafting of commercially harvested logs down Georgia’s rivers and streams was a common practice for transporting timber to coastal markets. It is estimated that 5 percent of those logs sank to the bottom.

It is believed that these sunken logs could have been trees that were centuries old when harvested then, and that they have different wood characteristics than modern lumber.