Wednesday, March 26, 2008

03/25 - OUR OPINIONS: Develop right priorities for Jekyll > Opinion
By Jay Bookman
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 03/25/08

Sometimes, important government decisions do more than determine the outcome of a particular controversy. They take on a larger symbolic value and make a statement about public priorities and values.

Certainly, that's the case with decisions involving Jekyll Island State Park, which state officials are trying to redevelop without diminishing the island's unique appeal. While there's broad agreement that redevelopment is necessary and overdue, the extent of redevelopment is very much a matter of debate.

As legislators ponder Jekyll's fate, they ought to ask themselves a question:

What would it say about Georgia and its priorities if we took the last open stretch of public beach in the state —- a half-mile stretch of property that is supposedly protected as a state park —- and convert it to condo units and hotels, as is now being proposed? What would that say about the things that Georgia holds dear, and about its commitment to preserve assets for future generations?

Under an amendment approved last week in the House Natural Resources Committee, development would be barred along roughly 2,500 feet of now open beachfront north of Jekyll's convention center.

However, chances of that provision being enacted into law are mixed at best, because that property is so highly treasured by developers. It plays a key role in a redevelopment project proposed by Linger Longer Inc. and approved in draft form by the Jekyll Island State Park Authority.

If enacted into law, the development ban —- sponsored by state Rep. Debbie Buckner (D-Junction City) —- would force a significant redesign of the Linger Longer project. Expected revenue from the project would decline, as would the number of overnight visitors the project is likely to attract.

However, the intent of a redevelopment plan for Jekyll Island should not be to maximize revenue or even visitation. The No. 1 priority should be to preserve and enhance the natural resource. If we give any other goal a higher priority, it says something less than flattering about us as a state.

-- Jay Bookman, for the editorial board

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