Deadhead program snubbed
February 18, 2006
Loggers balk at price state puts on old wood
Stacy Shelton - Staff
Georgia has spent more than $75,000 on a diving-for-logs program ...
in which no one wants to participate.
Additionally, the state Department of Natural Resources hired an
aquatic ecologist last month to run the program at an annual salary
$60,000, including benefits.
"I told him, 'You're going to have a real boring job,'" said
Jon Ryan Lee, a Cairo wood man who pulls sunken logs out of rivers
The reason, Lee said, is that the state Board of Natural Resources
set the price of the logs too high, about $500 each.
The lack of interest has made environmentalists happy. They oppose
the practice, called deadhead logging, over concerns that it stirs
up too much potentially polluted silt and disrupts the habitats of
endangered aquatic species.
"Logs, particularly exposed ones, provide habitat for the insects
and other arthropods that are the base of the food webs in Georgia
Satilla Riverkeeper Gordon Rogers, an environmentalist and former state
fisheries biologist. "This is a half-baked idea."
It all started last year, when the General Assembly passed a law
to give Lee the chance to remove logs from the bottom of the Altamaha
and Flint rivers in South Georgia. The logs of old-growth cypress
longleaf pines were left behind a century ago from the days when
the best way to move timber was to float it down rivers to saw mills
Because they were mostly heartwood, and therefore dense, about 5
percent of the 200- to 500-year-old logs sank. Many are still sitting
bottoms. They are the legacy of the disappearing long-leaf pine forests
and cypress trees that once blanketed much of Georgia.
Rare wood dealers prize the deadhead logs. They use them in flooring,
paneling and furniture that often wind up in clubhouses, resorts
and million-dollar homes, including some in metro Atlanta.
In 1998, as commercial deadhead logging was on the rise, Georgia
prohibited the practice because of legal and ecological concerns. In
2003, a state-appointed
committee called the Submerged Timber Task Force advised the DNR
not to allow deadhead logging before undertaking scientific studies
would take up to five years and cost up to $1 million. The committee
said the studies would need to answer questions about the potential
harm to biological resources, including largemouth bass and endangered
But last year, the General Assembly decided to move ahead without
the studies. The law sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Tommie Williams
(R-Lyons) created a two-year pilot program on parts of the Altamaha
and Flint rivers. DNR was tasked with coming up with the rules, which
it has done at a cost of more than $50,000. The rules, for example,
prohibit dragging logs on the river bottoms, and logging cannot be
performed within 20 feet of steep riverbanks to avoid erosion.
The law also requires loggers to pay $10,000 for an annual permit
per two-mile segment of river searched. They must also post a $50,000
to ensure compliance with the excavation rules.
But the cost that dissuaded Lee was the price for the logs set by
the Board of Natural Resources --- roughly $500 per log retrieved.
state's position is that it owns the logs because they are on the
bottom of Georgia's rivers. And according to the state constitution,
is forbidden from donating or giving away a publicly owned asset.
For months, state DNR staff worked on coming up with a fair price.
They figured the price of $1.28 per board foot at about 20 percent
of the value of the finished lumber. By comparison, the state sells
yellow pine saw timber off its land at about 40 percent of the value
of the finished lumber.
It's still too steep, said Lee, the deadhead logger who started his
own company, Aqua Log Inc., in anticipation of retrieving river logs
in Georgia. "I buy [deadhead logs] every single day. I know what
they're worth and I know what people pay for them," said Lee,
who works at Riverwood Flooring. "Nobody's going to pay anything
over 15 cents [per board foot]," or a fee of about $60 per log
to the state.
Florida charges a lot less than Georgia. There's a one-year fee of
$5,000, plus a $500 permit fee that's good for five years. The state
does not charge a fee per retrieved log, said Gordon Roberts, who
runs the project for the Flordia Department of Environmental Protection.
Even at those prices, the state recovers its expenses, which run
about $210,000 a year. Florida has about 60 deadhead loggers, about
of whom are active, he said.
It's also allowed in Maine, Michigan and North Carolina. Minnesota
repealed its law after one year, in 2002, because of ecological
Warren C. Budd Jr. of Newnan, a DNR board member who chairs the Historic
Preservation Committee, said Georgia prices must be set to recoup
the expenses. One difficulty, though, is that no one knows how many
are at the bottom of the rivers.
"If we charge less, it means the people of Georgia are subsidizing
the program. No. 1, it's not constitutional, and No. 2, it's not good
said. "If nobody wants to bid on it, leave the logs where they
are. We're not in business to guarantee these loggers a living."
Friday was the extended deadline for deadhead logging applications.
A half-dozen people expressed interest, including Lee, but no one
submitted an application, said Adam Kaese, the aquatic ecologist hired
In the meantime, DNR has asked the state auditor to review the $1.28
per board foot fee to ensure the rate is constitutional. The report
is due March 28, Kaeser said.
Also, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which regulates navigable
rivers, is reviewing the state's request to allow deadhead logging
in the Altamaha
and Flint rivers. The corps could prohibit the state from issuing
logging permits altogether.
Williams, who called the fee set by DNR exorbitant, said the Legislature
could set the fee, but he wants to give the process a chance to work.
"I felt like we had a marketable product," Williams said. "It's
not something that's naturally in the river. It was put there artificially
by my ancestors and the pioneers in Georgia in the attempt to sell
these logs to the European market."