Saturday, November 3, 2007

10/19 - Concerns are justified

Date October 19, 2007
Section(s) Commentary
The Brunswick News

As Senator for the Third District, I've had the pleasure of speaking recently with a number of Georgia's citizens regarding the development proposal presentation by Linger Longer Communities, the newly-selected private partner of the Jekyll Island Authority.

While most of these folks spoke of their desire to see some of the facilities and amenities of Jekyll Island State Park renovated, they also expressed concern over whether Linger Longer's proposal is appropriate for a State Park established specifically with affordability and accessibility as key elements.

Concern has been raised, for example, over building hundreds of condominiums on the current site of four, large public parking lots, which cater to day visitors and provide direct and convenient public access to the park's central beach.

This concern is a fair one and raises the question, "Is the purpose of Jekyll Island State Park best served by making condos the center piece of the park's oceanfront, or by continuing to provide the park's visitors with easy access to the sweeping views of Jekyll's pristine beach?"

Citizens have asked me why high-priced hotels and condos are proposed for a state park legally set aside for the benefit of Georgians "of average income."

The JIA has already agreed to replace the affordable Buccaneer Resort with an upscale 540-room hotel/condo complex, where room rates will approach $250 per day in the summer season.

Linger Longer proposes to build 400 more high-end hotel rooms, which would make most of the park's hotel accommodations unaffordable for most Georgians. Again, this is a fair public concern expressed often by Georgians I encounter.

The same question could be asked with regard to the condos Linger Longer proposes to build, 10% of which would sell for less than $400,000.

Using simple math, it seems likely that the rest of the condos, which are double and triple the size of the so-called 'low-end' units, will likely sell for double and triple that price.

In Friday's edition of the Brunswick News, JIA Executive Director Bill Donohue, in supporting the selection of Linger Longer as the Authority's private partner, stated that all of the proposed development "would occur at almost no Georgia state taxpayer expense."

However, when taking a closer look at Linger Longer's proposal, we see that it calls for the JIA itself to be saddled with $84,000,000 of public debt.

This debt would be paid for through park revenue that normally would go to the JIA for the maintenance and operation of the park.

If Linger Longer has its way, this revenue, which would come from the pockets of thousands of Georgians who visit the park annually, would finance a tab Linger Longer normally would pay if this were private property.

Mr. Donohue also stated that part of the Authority's mission is to ensure that the park's lodgings will be "accessible and available to all Georgians."

This admirable goal reminds me of the wise words that highlight the Georgia coast display at the State Capitol Museum: "This exhibit is intended to compliment our past and present governors and our department of natural resources for the excellent job done in keeping our coastline free from pollution, commercial exploitation and destruction.

This will enable thousands, of yet unborn generation, the pleasure of exploring and enjoying Georgia's coastline."

Living up to the words of the Capitol's exhibit is a goal that Georgia can meet only when its officials, elected and appointed, execute its laws, rules and policies with the greatest care, and in complete transparency.

It is my goal, as the Senator for the District blessed with an asset like Jekyll Island State Park, to do my best to assure the people of this state that those laws, rules and policies are carefully and openly fulfilled.

- Jeff Chapman is a State Senator.

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