On August 12, 2021, the Sierra Club Georgia Chapter and 15 other environmental justice organizations sent the letter below to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the members of the Atlanta City Council urging them to protect the South River Forest by voting no on proposed ordinance 21-O-0367. The proposed ordinance calls for the City of Atlanta to lease about 85 acres of the South River Forest to the Atlanta Police Foundation for the purposes of constructing a public safety training facility.
Dear Mayor Bottoms and Members of the Atlanta City Council:
We, the Atlanta Democratic Socialists of America, City in the Forest, Climate Reality Atlanta Chapter, Dogwood Alliance, ECO-Action, EcoAddendum, Georgia Interfaith Power and Light, Intrenchment Creek Community Stewardship Council, Moms Clean Air Force Georgia Chapter, Partnership for Southern Equity, Poder Latinx, Sierra Club Georgia Chapter, South River Forest Coalition, South River Watershed Alliance, Sunrise Atlanta, and other allied organizations from the local environmental justice community have become aware that the South River Forest (which includes the Old Atlanta Prison Farm site) is under threat of development and total destruction through proposed ordinance 21-O-0367. We are writing to demand that the Atlanta City Council fully commit to permanently protecting and preserving these greenspaces and to reject any plans for development.
Atlanta is known as the city in a forest, but the South River Forest is under threat of continued disinvestment in Southeast Atlanta. The city’s tree canopy, which is the most extensive of any metropolitan area in the United States and a city treasure, is our best hope for resilience against the worst impacts of climate change. The proposed development in the South River Forest, while slated for a fraction of the total acreage of the forest, will be devastating for the ecological community. Fragmentation of the South River Forest will leave the surrounding areas susceptible to stormwater flooding, which is Atlanta’s top natural disaster, continually increasing in intensity due to climate change.
Trees absorb rainfall which can mitigate flooding, runoff, and overflows from our outdated sewer systems. A forest and its vast ecosystem capture carbon and sequester it; destroying such an ecosystem would release previously captured carbon, accelerating climate change. Forests offer a natural filter for air pollution, converting carbon dioxide into oxygen. They also cool cities by reducing the urban heat island effect. This particular forest is a wetland and riparian buffer for the South River, and destroying it would have severe implications for the health and vitality of the river.
The South River Forest is also one of the last breeding grounds for many amphibians in the region, as well as an important site for migratory and wading birds. As Atlanta's largest remaining green space, this habitat is absolutely essential to their livelihood.
As local environmental organizations who work with surrounding neighborhoods to fight for climate justice and equity, we are informed by local community leadership and historical context that this area has endured histories of environmental injustices and pollution in the city. The environmental disinvestment of the area in and around the South River Forest has historically marginalized surrounding neighborhoods, which are primarily Black and Latinx communities. The continued disinvestment of this area from the city of Atlanta has perpetuated environmental harm and degradation. Protecting these lands can interrupt the cycles of injustice.
The undersigned organizations vehemently oppose ordinance 21-O-0367, which would jeopardize the South River Forest. We call on you to act for environmental justice for the surrounding neighborhoods and ecological communities of Southeast Atlanta. Please vote no for development of this forest via proposed ordinance 21-O-0367. We hope to see our local leaders commit to fully preserving our precious public lands now and into the future.
Atlanta Democratic Socialists of America
City in the Forest
Climate Reality Atlanta Chapter
Georgia Interfaith Power and Light
Intrenchment Creek Community Stewardship Council
Moms Clean Air Force Georgia Chapter
Partnership for Southern Equity
Sierra Club Georgia Chapter
South River Forest Coalition
South River Watershed Alliance