ATLANTA — Months of protests over Atlanta's proposed public safety training center have centered around two key areas: strengthening law enforcement and the environmental impact of the project. Protesters of the "Defend the Atlanta Forest" movement say the South River Forest, where the proposed training center is being built, is one of the largest urban forests in the region.
11Alive sifted to records to see if this is true.
Is the proposed Atlanta public safety training center being built in one of the largest urban forests in the region?
Yes, the public safety training center would be built in the South River Forest, one of the largest urban forests in the southeast.
WHAT WE FOUND
According to the Forest Service with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, an urban forest can be "urban parks, street trees, landscaped boulevards, gardens, river and coastal promenades, greenways, river corridors, wetlands, nature preserves, shelter belts of trees." Atlanta, which has been dubbed "City in the Forest" has several urban forests, including the South River Forest.
The Atlanta Police Foundation, which is backing the $90 million project, said the training center will be built on about 150 acres of city-owned property in unincorporated DeKalb County, with 21st-century Environmental Protection Agency standards and limited pollution to the environment. It adds that there is no significant tree cover on the land and cites research saying what types of trees growing on the site are dominated by invasive species.
In an online question-and-answer form, the Atlanta Police Foundation promised to replace any trees destroyed in construction with 100 new trees. The foundation said when considering the site, it spoke with the Nature Conservancy of Georgia, which called the South River Forest one of the largest unspoiled forested areas of metro Atlanta.
A host of climate advocates, including the Sierra Club of Georgia, sent an open letter to the city of Atlanta in 2021, saying the proposed development in the South River Forest will be devastating for the ecological community.
Several groups said the South River Forest's tree canopy is the most extensive of any metro area in the United States and could help combat climate change. The letter said fragmenting the forest would leave the area more prone to flooding.
The Atlanta Police Foundation said it had what it called listening sessions with Atlanta and DeKalb residents about the project.
The City of Atlanta said the project is on track to begin construction later this year, with the first phase wrapping up by the end of 2023.