Atlanta Audubon Letter to City Council: Reject the Current Plan for Cauley Creek Park

Dear Mayor Bodker, Councilor Zabrowski, Councilor Lin, Councilor Davenport, Councilor Coughlin, Councilor Endres, and Councilor Broadbent,

I am writing to you on behalf of the board of directors, staff, and constituents of Atlanta Audubon Society to express our concerns about the proposed Cauley Creek Park Master Plan. We would like to encourage the Council to reject the current proposed master plan for Cauley Creek Park.

Atlanta Audubon Society believes that where birds thrive, people thrive. With nearly 1,000 chapter members and more than 3,500 National Audubon Society members, Atlanta Audubon represents a broad constituency united by a desire to protect birds and other wildlife through education, conservation, and advocacy. Our constituency includes residents of Johns Creek and birders that frequent its parks and greenspaces, including the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (CRNRA) park units.

The Cauley Creek Park Master Plan concerns us because of (1) the sheer destruction of habitat that would occur with the creation of the park, (2) human disturbance to remaining habitat, and (3) the increased erosion and pollution entering the watershed from new development.

Currently, the Cauley Creek property, adjacent CRNRA property to the west, and the river area of that borders these properties supports more than 135 species of birds. We know this because our constituency walks Roger’s Bridge Road south from Bell Road for bird watching and data has been recorded in the worldwide database, eBird. These bird species use the area for foraging, nesting, and protection. Some species come in the spring and summer to breed; some come in the fall and winter to pass the cold months where there are good sources of food and shelter; and some are year-round residents that call this area home.

American Kestrel may have to find a new home

Within this list of 135 are rare and threatened species, including the state-listed “threatened” Bald Eagle and state-listed “rare” Henslow’s Sparrow. These two species have been significantly impacted by pollution and habitat destruction over many years. Although the Bald Eagle is recovering in Georgia, this is due to active conservation efforts. Additionally, 38 of these species are considered climate-threatened or climate-endangered by the National Audubon Society. This means that local populations of these birds’ habitats will likely be affected negatively by the predicted changes to the Earth’s climate. You can imagine our concern when 30% of the species that this area supports are already threatened by larger factors out of our local control. If Cauley Creek Park is developed based on the proposed master plan, most of the birds inhabiting the area will be forced to find new homes.

It is important to note that the large, open, and undisturbed meadow habitat on the Cauley Creek property is much of the reason that the area supports so many different types of birds and wildlife. Grasslands have been one of the fastest declining habitats in the state of Georgia for decades. Species such as Northern Harrier, Eastern Meadowlark, American Kestrel, Bobolinks, Sedge Wren, and a handful of sparrow species depend on these habitats and have experienced declining populations in Georgia. Johns Creek is lucky to have such a habitat along the Chattahoochee River migratory corridor—it is special and unique, and it should be preserved as much as possible.

A secondary impact to the surrounding habitat of the proposed Cauley Creek Park is disturbance. While some area will be maintained as natural vegetative buffers, the vast increase in human use, vehicular traffic, light, and noise will impact the wildlife that lives in these small buffer areas and in the adjacent CRNRA property. Combined with the additional numbers of people utilizing the future greenway path along Rogers Bridge Road extending across the River from Duluth, there will be little opportunity for nesting birds and other wildlife to succeed. So in addition to direct loss of habitat, what will be left for birds and other wildlife will be of diminished value.

Eastern Meadowlark resides in the Cauley Creek Meadows

Our third concern is for water quality and the Chattahoochee River corridor. In 1973, the state of Georgia passed the Metropolitan River Protection Act, a forward-thinking piece of legislation for its time to help communities along the Chattahoochee River protect their drinking water supply. This Act protects land and floodplain within 2,000 feet of the River from land-disturbing activity, and gave authority to a regional development center (Atlanta Regional Commission, ARC) to create and adopt the Chattahoochee Corridor Plan. 

Any proposed projects within the corridor must comply with this Plan and minimize changes that deleteriously affect the corridor. The proposed Cauley Creek Park Master Plan takes much of the policies from the Chattahoochee Corridor Plan into consideration. However, we are concerned that the baseball fields, multi-use fields, and open play area require enough land-disturbing activity that it violates policy #5:

The location and intensity of development should be sited so as to minimize the negative effects of that development on water quality both during and after construction. Major considerations concerning water quality should include: organic pollution from infiltration and surface runoff; erosion and sedimentation; water temperature elevation; nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus; and toxic materials.

Without knowing how the multi-use fields, baseball fields, and open space areas will be managed (such as chemical applications and motorized mowing equipment), it is hard to believe that the ARC will allow this sort of development based on the disturbance of the land within the buffer and the potential for increased volume of polluted runoff into Metro Atlanta’s main water supply. One of the multi-use fields is close to the 150-foot vegetative buffer to the River. There is a reason that there are not many ball fields situated adjacent to the Chattahoochee River. We do not believe an exception should be made for this project.

In reviewing the City of Johns Creek’s Parks and Recreation Strategic Plan, we understand that the City would like to build both active and passive use parks, including one park for sports tournament use. Although this strategic plan states that the Cauley Creek Park should not be assumed to be for tournament use, this Master Plan indicates that it will be, based on the attributes of a tournament park described in the strategic plan. We understand the increasing need for active use park facilities. However, given the potential for massive habitat loss for wildlife and the proximity of this proposed park to the Chattahoochee River, we feel that an active use park with managed ball fields and impervious surface parking for up to 800 vehicles is not the best use for this fragile landscape. Instead, we encourage the city to consider using this environmentally sensitive property as one of the passive parks. This would make more sense for both people and birds to thrive, while still adhering to the Strategic Plan and the Metropolitan River Protection Act.

Thank you for your consideration of our concerns. We ask that City Council reject the current proposed master plan for Cauley Creek Park. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me by email or phone with any questions or comments. Atlanta Audubon would be happy to work with the City of Johns Creek on a better plan.

Best,

Nikki Belmonte

Executive Director

 Source: Atlanta Audubon Society

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