Tuesday, November 27, 2007

11/21 - Jekyll director headed north

The Florida Times-Union
November 21, 2007
Times-Union Correspondent

Jekyll Island will soon lose the man who has directed the state park's operations for the past 10 years.

Gov. Sonny Purdue Tuesday recommended that Bill Donohue, executive director of the Jekyll Island Authority, become the new executive director for the Lake Lanier Islands Development Authority in northeast Georgia.

Donohue's expected departure comes just as plans to modernize Jekyll's hotels, convention center and downtown district come to a controversial peak. Stakeholders have bitterly debated whether Jekyll ought to be transformed into an upscale beachside resort or a more limited middle-class vacation spot that protects existing natural areas.

"I'm really sorry to hear he's going to be leaving, particularly since we are going through a transition period with all this new development," said Ed Boshears, a member of Jekyll's governing board.

The Jekyll Island Authority also recently lost its chief financial officer, Laura Bonds. Boshears said Donohue's departure means Jekyll will lose its top two administrators just at a time when they are needed the most.

"Mr. Donohue does a very good job and he is extremely knowledgeable about everything on Jekyll," said Boshears. "A new person will have to learn about the situation on Jekyll right in the middle of the revitalization process."

Jekyll resident Tise Eyler, a 10-year board member of the Jekyll Island Citizens Association and president for the last four, says he has worked closely with Donohue. He described Donohue as an outstanding hands-on leader who worked well with Jekyll's diverse community.

"He was like a quasi-mayor of this little town," Eyler said. "Bill always did an astute job of walking that thin-ice boundary between serving our residents, visitors and companies and hotels. He will be missed."

In a prepared release, Jekyll Island Authority board chairman Ben Porter credited Donohue with managing the update of Jekyll's master plan, initiating Jekyll's popular Shrimp and Grits Festival and guiding the creation of the Sea Turtle Center.

Donohue was not available for comment on the new Lake Lanier Islands position.

Donohue would replace the resort's outgoing executive director, Kevin Clark, who is leaving to fill a vacancy with the Georgia Building Authority and State Properties Commission.

Northeast of Atlanta, the 1,100-acre Lake Lanier Islands resort has amenities similar to those Donohue has managed on Jekyll including a convention center, hotel, lakeside cottages, golf courses, camping and horseback riding.

This story can be found on Jacksonville.com at http://www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/112107/geo_219329816.shtml.

11/21 - Jekyll developer promises rooms to be affordable

The Florida Times-Union
November 21, 2007
By Brandon Larrabee,
The Times-Union

ATLANTA - A key official of the company awarded the contract to redevelop some of Jekyll Island's sagging tourist infrastructure laid out the development plan and defended it during a public hearing.

A few dozen people attended the session at the Cobb Galleria Centre in Atlanta.

Jim Langford, the project executive for Linger Longer Communities, stressed to those attending the meeting that public comments could change the company's approach to development.

"The plan you're going to hear today is not set in stone," he said.

Langford said many of the horror stories of high-priced hotels and high-rise condominiums that spread in the buildup to Linger Longer's selection were overblown. But the company wasn't able to respond before its selection because it would have been seen as tampering with the process, he said.

"We couldn't tell people, 'Don't worry; it's going to be better than that,' " he said.

Langford said the new development would include a 125-room economy and 200-room midscale hotel a short distance from the beach. In all, 72 percent of Linger Longer's rooms will cost less than $139 a night, and half would go for $96 a night.

"We think we need a few higher-end rooms, because there will be some people who want higher-end rooms," he said.

But Langford faced a skeptical audience, some of whom expressed fears that the project would change the character of a state-owned island set aside by Georgia law as a tourism hub for average citizens.

"I learned a long time ago that if you want to, you can dress up a turkey to make him look good," said Larry Ross of Carrollton.

Ross said that, despite the presentation, he was worried about the affordability of the island's hotels.

"I feel that the current development plan would make it difficult or impossible for the average citizen of Georgia to continue to visit Jekyll," Ross said.

Dory Ingram, a member of the grass-roots group the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, said the redevelopment was just one in a series of events, like the overhaul of the old Buccaneer hotel, that threatened Jekyll.

"The process that has begun here will rob Georgia citizens of their legacy," Ingram said.

But Rep. Joe Wilkinson, R-Sandy Springs, said environmentally friendly lawmakers wouldn't let Linger Longer go too far.

"We're watching and working with these folks," Wilkinson said. "We're watching like hawks, I think."

11/24 - Biologist worries about Jekyll plan

Date: November 24, 2007
Section(s): Local News
The Brunswick News

The delicate balance between wildlife and humans on Jekyll Island is a top concern of a U.S. biologist based in Brunswick.

Kathy Chapman of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says sea turtles, piping plovers, wood storks, Wilson plovers and painted buntings could potentially be disrupted if habitats are encroached upon.

Chapman is concerned about the potential impact that the proposed $441 million redevelopment of the state park could have on the environment and wildlife.

"Birds will be affected more than any other group," she said. "How much they will be affected depends on how much habitat is encroached on and what kinds of lighting techniques are used."

Other wildlife, such as raccoons, deer and alligators, may require additional management as well if the human ratio increases.

Chapman feels a study should be conducted to determine the limits of a suitable balance between human activity and wildlife before the development plans progress.

"This would not be easy to determine," she said. "Some monitoring needs to be done, then included in a summary study. "Up to now, there has been a good balance between humans and wildlife."

Simply stated, more people will mean more human encounters with island species.

Under Georgia law, only 35 percent of the island can be developed.

Right now, human activity is spread across the beach, she said. That could change with redevelopment, which calls for a higher density of people on some stretches of beach.

It happens now to some extent.

"Some of it is ignorance, while some of it is just a lack of care, but some people need to be educated about how to respect the environment if they are coming to stay on Jekyll Island," Chapman said.

Activities such as flushing birds and allowing dogs to run free on the beach could have detrimental impacts on several endangered species that depend on the habitat the island provides, she said.

"It would be nice if they would include some type of orientation education for the people who come to stay on Jekyll Island at the resort," Chapman said. "Somehow they will have to get the message out to people about respecting the environment while staying on Jekyll."

Including educational materials in the rooms and cottages that could help to inform visitors about the types of wildlife and how to behave in their habitats could help soften the impact, she said.

The proposed redevelopment, which includes new hotels, convention center and commercial district, is the subject of several public hearings around the state.

Representatives of Linger Longer Communities, which is collecting public input on its plan to develop 65 acres in the general area of the Jekyll Island Convention Center, have said plans recently unveiled are tentative and subject to change. They have have said the plan will be sensitive to the environment.