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Strong Stories: Drew Ernst

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Degree Class of 1974
B.S. in Political Science

Drew Ernst

Environmental Attorney HunterMaclean

As an environmental law attorney with HunterMaclean in Savannah for the past 38 years, Drew Ernst has brokered land use agreements that protect our local creeks and wildlife, while accommodating a fast-growing industrial and commercial sector.

However, his career didn’t begin with a plan as detailed as the permits he helps obtain for clients like Crossroads Business Center and The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort and Spa. Instead, this Savannah native attended Armstrong after graduating from Jenkins High School, thinking he might like to practice real estate or become a doctor.

“I took those aptitude tests, and one of them said I ought to be a preacher!” he laughs. “I knew that wasn’t quite right.”

He finally settled on political science as his chosen path as a way to effect change and influence policy.

“Academically, it was not a cakewalk at Armstrong,” he recalls. “My professors were very tough.”

As a statistician for Armstrong’s basketball team and a representative in student government, Ernst enjoyed the university’s “big college feel on a small campus.” He considers his best day the time when he met an Armstrong nursing student named Kathy after a basketball game—they’ve been married for 39 years.

Ernst went on to receive his law degree from the University of Georgia and then returned to Savannah in the late 1970s, where he had completed several internships with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under then-district regulatory chief Steven Osvald. It was an exciting time for development and industry, as well as a turning point for environmental legislation that would protect surrounding waterways.

“This was back when the Clean Water Act and wetlands regulation were just beginning to come together,” he recalls. “I got to be in the mix when all of that started. Up until then, the Corps was still using laws on the books from 1899.”

Ernst says his Armstrong education gave him the confidence to negotiate with multinational corporations, as well as to help with complex local developments like the Westin Savannah Harbor Resort on Hutchinson Island.

“I learned how to work with people—and, of course, we had a whole lot of fun,” he smiles. “Armstrong provided me with a foundation that has served me well all of these years.”