Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for April 8, 2024


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for April 8, 2024

On April 8, 1917, U.S. President William Howard Taft (R-Ohio) spoke in Augusta, Georgia, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Former President William Howard Taft spoke on the precarious world situation for more than an hour to an Easter Sunday crowd at Augusta’s Tabernacle Baptist Church.

Taft, who had lost the White House four years earlier to Woodrow Wilson, defended the actions of his former rival.

“Our national conscience is entirely void of offense in this war. We have been forced to vindicate our rights,” Taft told an enthusiastic audience.

Hank Aaron hit home run number 715 on April 8, 1974 to become the all-time home run champion, a title he arguably holds to this day.

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig wrote about what Aaron meant to baseball and America.

As the last major league player who was a part of the Negro leagues, he was one of the game’s most prominent bridges to integration. For 23 years on the field, this humble native of Mobile, Ala., represented the game with unfailing grace, overcoming obstacles that most of us could not even imagine. In the years since then, Hank has remained one of the most distinguished and revered figures in American public life.

Aaron himself spoke to the Associated Press about the 40th anniversary of his record-breaking home run.

Aaron’s record-breaking homer will be celebrated tonight before the Atlanta Braves’ home opener against the New York Mets.

Hate mail and threats made it impossible for him to savor the chase of Ruth’s revered record, but on Monday he said he’ll enjoy the anniversary because such old friends as former teammate Dusty Baker will return for the pregame ceremony.

Aaron, 80, said he has a greater appreciation for fans who still celebrate his career.

“It does. It means an awful lot to me,” Aaron said.

“I’m not one to go around bragging about certain things. I played the game because I loved the game. … I am quite thrilled that people say that he, whatever he did, should be appreciated. That makes me feel good.”

The Braves will wear an Aaron 40th anniversary patch on their uniform sleeves this season. An outfield sign at Turner Field also will mark the anniversary.

Before hitting the homer into the Braves’ bullpen beyond the left-field wall, Aaron told [Dusty] Baker what was about to happen.

“That I can remember like it was yesterday,” Baker said. “It was a cold, cold night in April. Hank told me, ‘I’m going to get this over with now.’ He knew every pitch that was coming. He had total recall of pitch sequences. He was as smart as they came.”

Aaron confirmed Baker’s tale on Monday: “I think that was right. I think I made that remark and made it to Dusty maybe three or four times. I just felt within myself that eventually before the night was over I was going to hit a home run.”

From the Associated Press via the Valdosta Daily Times on the 50th Anniversary:

Aaron’s teammates, including Dusty Baker, worried on his behalf even as the future Hall of Famer circled the bases following his record-breaking 715th homer on April 8, 1974. Baker, who was on deck, and Tom House, who caught the homer in the Atlanta bullpen behind the left-field wall, will return Monday for the 50-year anniversary of the homer.

After sprinting from the bullpen to deliver the ball to Aaron at home plate, House found Aaron’s mother giving the slugger a big hug.

“You could see both of them with tears in their eyes,” House told The Associated Press. “… It was a mother and son. Obviously, that was cool. It was also mom protecting her boy from at that time everybody thought somebody would actually try to shoot him at home plate.

“So there were all kind of things. I gave him the ball. I said, ‘Here it is, Hank.’ He said ‘Thanks, kid.’”

Bob Hope, then the Braves media relations director, said Aaron would not be deterred by the threats issued late in the 1973 season as he approached Ruth’s record of 714 career homers.

“One time the FBI wanted to come meet with him on a Sunday and asked him not to play because they felt they had legitimate death threats on him,” Hope said.

“We went down to the clubhouse and sat down with him and Hank just said: ‘What kind of statement would that be? I am a baseball player. You guys do what you need to do to keep things secure, but I’m playing baseball.’ And I thought that was very reflective of his personality all the way through.”

To mark the 50-year anniversary of Aaron’s 715th homer, the Atlanta History Center will open a new exhibit to the public, through the Henry Louis Aaron Fund, celebrating Aaron on Tuesday that will remain open through the 2025 All-Star Game in Atlanta. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is expected to attend a preview of the exhibit on Monday.

Aaron’s bat and the ball he hit for the record homer, owned by the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York and normally not open to public viewing, will be on display at Truist Park’s monument garden on Monday.

Kurt Cobain was found dead by his own hand on April 8, 1994.

Governor Zell Miller signed legislation proclaiming Gainesville, Georgia the Poultry Capital of the World on April 8, 1995.

The Square Dance became the official state folk dance on April 8, 1996, when Gov. Zell Miller signed legislation recognizing it.

On April 8, 2005, Eric Rudolph agreed to plead guilty to the fatal 1996 bombing at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Election procedures will differ from previous years after the General Assembly passed election reform legislation, according to the Capitol Beat News Service.

The General Assembly passed the most far-reaching election law changes last month since 2021, when the legislature’s Republican majorities enacted a sweeping election system overhaul following Democrat Joe Biden’s narrow victory in the Peach State in 2020 and the capture by Democrats of both of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats in January 2021 runoffs.

The passage of most of the following five bills came primarily along party lines:

• Senate Bill 189 – Makes it easier to file mass voter challenges; eliminates QR codes from paper ballots; eases requirements for third-party presidential candidates to get on Georgia’s ballot.

• House Bill 1207 – Allows fewer voting machines on election days; requires poll workers to be U.S. citizens; allows closer access for poll watchers.

• Senate Bill 368 – Prohibits campaign contributions from foreign nationals.

• House Bill 974 – Requires secretary of state to set up a statewide system to scan and post paper ballots at a minimum resolution; requires more audits of statewide election results.

• House Bill 1312 – Reschedules state Public Service Commission elections following a ruling in a lawsuit accusing the current system of violating the federal Voting Rights Act.

Senate Bill 189 and House Bill 1207 have drawn the most criticism from legislative Democrats and voting-rights advocates, so much so that the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia has threatened to sue if Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signs Senate Bill 189.

What opponents find most objectionable is a provision establishing probable cause – an easier burden of proof to meet – as the standard for filing a successful voter challenge. In 2022, Republican activists filed thousands of voter challenges in Democratic-leaning counties only to see local election boards dismiss the vast majority as baseless.

Republicans say this year’s election bills are aimed at restoring election integrity, citing claims of widespread voter fraud lodged by GOP officials after the 2020 election. Those claims were subsequently dismissed by courts that found no widespread fraud.

“What’s crazy to me is the idea that anybody in this chamber would be OK with a fraudulent vote canceling your legal vote or anybody’s legal vote,” Rep. John LaHood, R-Valdosta, chairman of the House Governmental Affairs Committee, said on the House floor. “Fraud makes votes not matter. What this does is make sure your legal vote does matter.”

“Our bill actually makes the process of challenging more difficult,” added Rep. Victor Anderson, R-Cornelia. “It actually is designed to clarify what constitutes a valid challenge and constitutes an invalid challenge.”

House Bill 1207 takes Republican-led efforts to reduce the supply of voting machines an additional step. After absentee ballot drop boxes were made widely available leading up to the 2020 elections because of the pandemic, the passage of Senate Bill 202 in 2021 limited the number of drop boxes.

The new legislation would give local election superintendents discretion to allow fewer voting machines on Election Day than current law requires, depending on the voter turnout they expect.

While both Senate Bill 189 and House Bill 1207 passed along partisan lines, Senate Bill 368 sailed through the Senate unanimously and cleared the House with only two “no” votes. To Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, prohibiting campaign contributions from foreign nationals was the most important of the election bills.

“This commonsense measure defends Georgia elections,” Raffensperger said. “Voters deserve assurance that their elections remain free from foreign influence.”

House Bill 974 was less controversial than Senate Bill 189 and House Bill 1207, drawing support from many legislative Democrats.

House Bill 1312 was forced upon the General Assembly by a federal lawsuit charging the current system of electing the five members of the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) statewide rather than by district dilutes Black voting strength in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

While the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals subsequently upheld the current system, the case forced the cancellation of PSC elections in 2022 and again this year. House Bill 1312 rescheduled the elections for 2026 and 2028.

Democrats complained the new schedule would let commissioners who normally serve six-year terms stay in office for eight years or longer. Republicans countered that they had no choice because of the court case.

While most of the bills would take effect in time for the November elections, a provision in Senate Bill 189 eliminating QR codes from paper ballots wouldn’t become law until 2026. That’s to give the secretary of state’s office time to develop new technology to replace the QR codes.

Tuesday is the last day to submit comments on the proposed permit for mining near the Okefenokee Swamp, according to Georgia Recorder.

Tuesday is the last day to submit a written comment on Alabama-based Twin Pines Minerals’ plans to mine Trail Ridge, which is seen as an important barrier for the swamp, for titanium, staurolite, and zircon. One of the permits would allow the company to withdraw 1.4 million gallons per day from the Floridan Aquifer.

The state regulatory agency, which issued the draft permits in February, will next review and respond to the comments on its website, although there is no set timeline for what comes next.

“If necessary, EPD will request changes to the draft permits,” agency spokesperson Sara Lips said Friday.

Supporters of the project say blocking the mining project would infringe on the landowner’s private property rights, and they have also argued the project will bring needed jobs to the rural area.

But the controversial mining proposal is deeply unpopular among admirers of the largest blackwater swamp in North America, which is home to a diverse ecosystem boasting of thousands of species of animals and plants.

Opponents have blasted the plan as an unnecessary threat to the hydrology of the swamp and its ecosystem that jeopardizes the local tourism economy tied to the swamp and opens the door to more mining.

On Friday, actor Leonardo DiCaprio joined the ranks of people opposing the project, calling on his 62 million followers on Instagram to submit a comment urging state regulators to reject the mine. He linked to a form letter on the Southern Environmental Law Center’s website.

“Help save one of the most significant wetlands on Earth from an 8,000-acre strip mine,” DiCaprio posted, referring to the potential scope of mining operations in the long term. These initial permits are for a 582-acre demonstration mine.

The public comment period is ending more than a week after a legislative push to pass moderate protections for the swamp stalled in the state Senate. A Georgia House proposal called for a three-year moratorium on future applications for the kind of mining Twin Pines plans to do, although that was unlikely to affect the company’s long-term expansion plans. The proposed demonstration project has been in the works now for five years.

Legislative leaders rebuffed another measure that would have permanently blocked new or expanded mining permit applications at Trail Ridge.

Rena Ann Peck, executive director of the Georgia River Network, wrote in the organization’s formal comment that state lawmakers’ hands-off approach to the proposal and deferral to state regulators has left EPD as the “last line of defense for the cherished Okefenokee.”

“With the permittee’s ‘Ts’ crossed and ‘Is’ dotted, the Division is poised to issue a common permit that will do irreparable harm to the uncommon Okefenokee,” Peck said.

If EPD decides to issue final permits, Peck argued for more than the usual permit conditions, calling specifically for a detailed monitoring of groundwater and surface water before, during and after mining.

“The permittee must be held accountable for actions that harm the Okefenokee Swamp and St. Marys River,” she wrote.

A four-hundred million dollar renovation and expansion of the Georgia Capitol campus begins this year, according to the AJC.

Gov. Brian Kemp in February signed a mid-year budget with money for work on the building to begin this summer. The project is expected to begin with the demolition of two smaller office buildings that once housed, among other things, the Georgia Building Authority, said Gerald Pilgrim, the deputy executive director of the Georgia Building Authority.

“What will go up is an eight-story building that will attach to the Capitol by a bridge that goes across Martin Luther King (Jr. Drive),” Pilgrim said. “There will be an improved area for the press and lobbyists and better areas for the public.”

The Paul D. Coverdell Legislative Office Building — which is on the other side of the Capitol and has housed legislative offices and meeting rooms — was last renovated in the 1990s.

Plans for the new office building show more and larger committee rooms accessible to people with disabilities and improvements to technology and dedicated press areas.

The design also calls for an interior courtyard and a bridge connecting the third floor of the new building and the Capitol, making it easier for legislators and the public to move between them.

As for the 135-year-old Capitol, most of the mechanical systems are from the 1950s, Pilgrim said. Planned upgrades to that building include two additional fire stairways and exits, more bathrooms, and a more public-friendly visitor entrance. The work will also make all public areas accessible for people with disabilities.

Most work on the Capitol would happen between April and November of each year when lawmakers are not in session.

The Georgia Composite Medical Board flip-flopped again on telehealth rules, according to the AJC.

After a sustained outcry from doctors who use telemedicine visits to prescribe controlled drugs such as Ritalin, the Georgia Composite Medical Board on Thursday reversed its plans to restrict the practice, at least for now.

Instead, Georgia’s rules will remain the same as they have been throughout the pandemic until at least the end of the year. The board plans to write new rules from scratch.

The issue of virtual prescribing is a huge one in the South. Specialists are rare in rural Georgia and telemedicine has allowed some to see patients regularly from distant counties and even different states. For instance, the most recent state data showed more than half of Georgia’s 159 counties — 90 — had no psychiatrist.

When the Georgia medical board in December suddenly reimposed its old rules effective Jan. 1, prescribers erupted in confusion over what exactly the old rules allowed when it comes to distant patients who take prescriptions that might renew every month. Some doctors said they would have to stop seeing virtual patients for controlled drugs altogether until the board clarified what was legal.

Now, psychiatrists and other doctors who prescribe drugs via virtual patient visits, can continue to do so, even if they’ve never met the patient in person.

Board Chairman Dr. William Bostock said the board wants to protect patient health while making sure that health care practices have clear, legal rules to follow. A long, careful review of Georgia law concerning teleprescribing found language that was vague or inadvertently contradictory, Bostock said.

“Out of fairness to all parties involved, we’re going to go ahead and rescind our board order that was supposed to take effect May 1,” he said. “The telehealth industry is continuing to evolve. Obviously, it has a part in the delivery of health care for not only citizens of Georgia, but really for the entire nation. And I think our responsibility is to safeguard the public and make sure that we follow what is necessary to that end.”

The AJC looks at what types of bills passed in the 2024 Session.

The AJC analysis looked at all of the successful bills and grouped them into subject areas like finance, healthcare or education. Some of the bills are counted in more than one category. For example, Senate Bill 533, a bill to allow local jails to provide prisoners with mental health treatment while awaiting competency hearings, rather than in a hospital setting. The bill was counted as both a bill related to the judicial system and a bill related to health.

The AJC found the largest category of successful bills involved finances, with 160 bills passing both the House and Senate. Of those financial bills, 130 changed state tax law and tax exemptions, mostly increasing local homestead exemptions. Others in that category levy excise taxes, reduce income taxes, or expand exemptions for sales and use taxes.

The remaining 30 financial bills targeted areas other than taxation, including bills allowing student loan repayment for peace officers and protections for elderly and disabled adults who may be victims of financial exploitation.

Lawmakers passed at least 126 bills applying to the judicial system, including bills raising the pay of some judges or adding judges to some state and judicial circuit courts. Other bills gave law enforcement new powers or responsibilities such as adding antisemitism to Georgia’s hate crimes statute and strengthening immigration laws by penalizing sheriffs who do not cooperate with federal immigration officers. Many bills also affect court procedures, like adding the collection of technology fees onto a fine as a cost of court.

About 40 bills dealing with government functions cover elections specifically. This category includes measures for creating boards of elections and registration in various counties, proofing ballots by local superintendents in certain races, maintaining a state-wide system for posting scanned paper ballots, and time off for employees to vote in advance.

Gwinnett County property owners will soon receive assessment notices, according to AccessWDUN.

Gwinnett County’s Board of Assessors has announced this week that they have mailed out required notifications to all residential and commercial property owners in the county, as of Friday, April 5.

The county is required by law to notify property owners about the annual value each property holds.  The current mailing is reflective of property value as of January 1, 2024.

The Annual Notice of Assessment is not a tax bill but does include an estimate of 2024 property taxes. Officials with the Gwinnett  Assessor’s Office note that each assessment should include:

The estimate combines the 2024 property value with the 2023 millage rates and exemptions on file.
The 2023 tax rates are used because the 2024 rates for county, cities and schools are not calculated until later in the year.
The estimates on the notice do not account for potential changes to fees, such as stormwater, solid waste, streetlights or speed control devices.
The Assessor’s Office suggests that property owners review their Annual Notice of Assessment to ensure accuracy, and to notice if their property is listed at fair market value.

Gwinnett County property owners who disagree with the 2024 value have 45 days from the date on their assessment notice to file an appeal online, in person or by mail.

Camden County Commissioners voted against surrendering their spaceport license, according to The Brunswick News.

A motion by Camden County Commission Jim Goodman to surrender the county’s spaceport license at a meeting this week failed due to the lack of a second.

While the county could not complete the purchase of Union Carbide property for a launch site, Goodman said the motion wasn’t symbolic.

“There’s a lot of sentiment in this community,” he said. “They feel like money is being squandered. There is potential for this to continue to have a life of its own.”

Surrendering the launch operator’s license to the Federal Aviation Administration would show Camden County residents the spaceport saga is finally over, he said.

“I can’t get a straight answer about whether we’re still spending money on consultants,” Goodman said. “I wonder why (commissioners) can’t understand the will of the voters.”

Opponents gathered enough signatures on a petition to force a referendum in 2022 rejecting a commercial spaceport. It was approved by 72% of the Camden County voters.

“From the day the spaceport license was issued, it was useless,” Goodman said. “It’s hard for them to admit they were wrong. It’s time to move on and using things with taxpayer money.”

Steve Weinkle, an opponent who helped initiate the petition that forced the county to abandon plans for a spaceport, said he believes some county commissioners continue to work behind the scenes to find a launch provider who is willing to buy the 4,000-acre Union Carbide property and the license to launch rockets.

“They’re still trying to work a deal,” he said. “I suspect commissioners have a secret, potential user.”

The Valdosta Police Department updated their tattoo policy, according to WALB.

While some jobs may not want to hire you if you have tattoos that can be seen while on the job, Valdosta Police Department says that won’t stop them from hiring you.

Some in the community feel it should be determined on the position your work in, “Tattoos are an expression of creativity. They’re an expression of who you are, how you feel, or just your views. So depending on the area that you’re going in— it can be taken into consideration, and it will be taken into consideration.”

The department says they are currently hiring, and this new policy is affective immediately.

Athens-Clarke County Commissioners voted for a zoning code change to take back some power over the process, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

With a unanimous vote, commissioners last week approved an ordinance amendment presented by the county planning department staff, while rejecting a proposal from the county-commission-appointed planning commission.

Briefly, the planning commission, which acts in an advisory capacity to the county commission on zoning-related issues, had wanted to rely on an ordinance provision that allowed the county commission only to cast a “yes” or “no” vote on a text amendment coming from the planning commission.

Commissioners can now change the language of a proposed text amendment when it comes in front of them without sending it back to the planning commission for review and resubmission to the full commission.

“… I think it’s crucial that this body have the real final say on these things. … We’re the democratically elected representatives of the people,” said Commissioner Melissa Link in making the motion to approve the staff-recommended change to the zoning ordinance.

“And us, being those who know these very specific small pockets of the community, are best suited to tweak that language to assure that there aren’t unintended harms brought to certain often voiceless segments of our community,” Link contended.

The City of Gainesville is launching an event transit service, according to AccessWDUN.

Explore Gainesville’s two new Cool Buses will  soon be spotted taking people from parking areas to various events sponsored by the city.

The two refurbished Hall County School surplus buses aim to account for events hosted by the city that may have off– site parking, according to Gainesville Director of Tourism, Robin Lynch.

“We’re excited to offer the community some additional transportation to come to our events,” Lynch said. “Our events are really supported highly by our community members,  and sometimes, our parking deck fill up… so,  we have to use off site lots.  We don’t ever want that to be a deterrent for people to come and use our facilities and visit events.”

The Cool Buses feature seating for up to 42 people, television screens, microphones and speakers to be used by presenters. The bus seats have also been arranged to have  seating that faces each other, rather than that of  a traditional school bus layout. Syfan Logistics worked to tune up and paint the buses, and North Atlanta Customs renovated the interiors and wrapped the  exteriors in Gainesville branding.

Darien hosted their “blessing of the fleet,” according to The Brunswick News.

Darien ended its annual three-day Blessing of the Fleet Sunday with its namesake event, the speaking of blessings over the shrimping vessels moored in Darien and nearby fish docks.

The crowd of at least 1,000 watched from the bridge, city docks, hotel balconies and the northern banks of the Darien River as the shrimp boats idled up to the bridge against a strong outgoing tide for a sprinkling of holy water and words of benediction for safe passages and a bountiful catch.

The theme was there’s nothing like the “real thing,’’ as in wild Georgia shrimp. There were some imposters, however, in the form of people wearing orange, inflatable shrimp costumes. The Rev. Lee Brandt pronounced the first blessing over Shadow Walker. He asked that the boat and crew “be blessed as you go and blessed as you go in” and have the best season ever.

It was the 56th annual blessing and it has grown into a big event with live entertainment, a street parade, arts and crafts, a car show and other attraction.

Former City of Atlanta Chief Financial Officer Jim Beard pled guilty to federal charges relating to his time in office, according to the AJC.

The former chief financial officer for the city of Atlanta pleaded guilty Monday in a federal case alleging he used tens of thousands of dollars in city funds for personal travel and to buy two military-grade machine guns.

Jim Beard, also accused of cheating on his taxes, appeared before a federal judge in Atlanta. He pleaded guilty to one count of federal program theft and one count of obstructing IRS laws. He faces up to 13 years in prison.

Beard also has agreed to pay an amount to be determined at sentencing, which is set for July 12.

Beard, the Atlanta CFO in former mayor Kasim Reed’s administration, used city funds for airline tickets, luxury hotels and limousines for himself, his family and travel companions, prosecutors said. They said he also bought two custom-built, fully-automatic rifles with city money, and falsely claimed losses from a consulting business on his federal tax forms.

The case is part of a years-long City Hall corruption probe in Atlanta that brought multiple city officials and contractors before U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones on criminal charges. Eight defendants were sentenced to prison. Beard was the last defendant facing trial.

Beard was indicted in September 2020 on eight charges, to which he pleaded not guilty. He faced three counts of wire fraud, two counts of federal program theft, and single counts of possessing a machine gun, falsifying an application or record, and obstructing federal tax laws.

Beard used his city-issued credit card for personal trips to Chicago, Louisiana and Washington, D.C., according to his indictment. He also used city funds on a Chicago hotel room so his stepdaughter could attend the Lollapalooza music festival in 2015 and 2016, prosecutors alleged.

Prosecutors claimed Beard used public money for a stay at The St. Regis Atlanta hotel in Buckhead, where he ordered hundreds of dollars worth of room upgrades, private dining and a “rose-petal turndown service” for him and his wife.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is asking boaters to watch out for sea turtles and manatees, according to The Brunswick News.

A 9-foot-long manatee may only make a swirl as they migrate north each spring into the murky Coastal Georgia waters, giving boaters little indication of the massive marine mammal beneath the water’s surface.

Endangered 300-pound loggerhead sea turtles of all species may poke only their heads out of the water when it surfaces, which they are more likely to do in the spring.

Neither are easy to spot, which is why the Georgia Department of Natural Resources is asking boaters to slow down and keep a watchful eye out for the large, rare animals.

Hundreds of sea turtles are hit by boats every year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, making boat strikes the most common cause of sea turtle strandings in the U.S.

Of the 72 dead or injured sea turtles found on Georgia beaches last year, about a quarter of those that could be assessed had suffered injuries from boat strikes, the DNR said.

Sea Turtles have a wider range than many people might think, said Mark Dodd, senior DNR wildlife biologist. They are not limited to the ocean side of local barrier islands.

“They occur everywhere, not just in the ocean,” he said. “They’re in the sounds, the estuaries, the tidal creeks.”

There are similar statistics for manatees. A study by the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute examined 10 years worth of Florida manatee necropsy results and found that one out of every four adult manatee caracasses bore evidence of 10 or more vessel strikes.

In Georgia, watercraft collisions were responsible for more than a fourth of the manatee mortalities documented since 2005.

Manatees migrate each spring from Florida to Georgia. Some move back and forth between the states throughout the summer. Anytime between March and November, people could encounter West Indian or Florida manatees, said Jessica Thompson, senior DNR wildlife biologist.

Both are threatened species under the Endangered Species Act and are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Boaters should be alert and have someone scan for wildlife in front of the boat, stay in deeper channels in the tidal rivers and creeks, and heed low-speed and no-wake zones, particularly around docks, Thompson said.

If boaters do strike a sea turtle or manatee, they should report it immediately to the DNR by calling 1-800-2-SAVE-ME (800-272-8363). Boaters will not be charged if operating their boat responsibly and the collision was an accident.

Coastal Georgia is a national leader in intermodal sea turtle releases. From the Savanah Morning News:

[Steven] Bernstein and another pilot with the organization Turtles Fly Too this week carried nearly three-dozen rehabilitated Testudines from the Northeast to Georgia’s Jekyll Island, where they were reintroduced to the Atlantic Ocean in what organizers say was the largest-ever operation of its kind in the state.

“I fly as an avocation,” he explained.

Certain shelled reptiles, however, turn Bernstein and other volunteers into unwavering advocates for endangered species such as the 33 Kemp’s ridley turtles and a single green turtle released into the Jekyll surf Wednesday.

“We’re going to keep doing it as long as we have the opportunity,” added Bernstein, who estimated that the flight from Massachusetts to Georgia in his Pilatus PC-12 single-engine plane brought his total TFT transports to about a dozen.

The reptile passengers made the flights after spending up to five months in one of four facilities: the Mystic Aquarium in Stonington, Connecticut; New England Aquarium in Boston; Atlantic Marine Conservation Society in Hampton Bays, New York; and New York Marine Rescue Center on Long Island.

All were treated for conditions related to “cold-stunning,” which is the turtle version of hypothermia.

As they waited for the flights to arrive at the airport about 4 miles away, more than a dozen staff members from the six agencies assisting in the release swatted incessantly at swarms of stinging sand gnats and sidestepped jellyfish scattered like loose stones in the wet sand.

In waves, quartets of volunteers reached into the containers and carefully lifted the turtles – typically about 2 feet long and weighing 70 pounds or more – and carried them into the surf. One by one, each person placed a turtle just under the water’s surface and gave it a gentle push.

[A]ll 34 releases were successful, said Rachel Overmeyer, rehabilitation program manager at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, which coordinated the effort.

From GPB:

Every year when water in the North Atlantic becomes too cold, many turtles are stunned, disoriented and wash up onshore.

After time spent in rehabilitation facilities in the Northeast, they’re ready to hit the waters here, which are warm enough this time of year for the turtles to thrive.

Terry Carbonell is a pilot with Turtles Fly Too, an organization that shuttles sea turtles all over the country for events like this. During the day’s event, she helped two turtles into the ocean.

“It’s just so amazing,” Carbonell said. “I’ve flown them. You’ve seen them sick, and now, that one especially, was just so healthy he was ready to go.”

A transponder under each of the turtles skin ensures the groups on Jekyll can help them in case they’re caught or stranded again.

Comments ( 0 )