Friday, February 29, 2008

02/28 - Bills meant to block Jekyll redevelopment are killed > Metro
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 02/28/08

A Senate committee on Thursday killed three bills intended to block a redevelopment plan for Jekyll Island.

Members of the Jekyll Island Authority, in charge of reconstructing the state park, accused state Sen. Jeff Chapman (R-Brunswick) of lying to make his case for the legislation.

The trio of bills would have prohibited residences from being built in state parks across Georgia, and would have restricted new construction on Jekyll Island to sites where development has already occurred.

The hour-long hearing was held in one of the smallest conference rooms in the Capitol, forcing spectators into the hall. It came only days after Chapman accused the authority of fudging visitor numbers and under-reporting its revenue by $11.3 million over the past 10 years.

"That is an absolute untruth, and the senator knew it when he said so," said Ben Porter, chairman of the Jekyll Island Authority.

Chapman didn't back off. The authority's claims, he told his colleagues, "are not exactly accurate, to put it in nice terms, regarding revenue, regarding visitation."

Chapman and residents of the island say the redevelopment, approved by the Legislature last spring, has ballooned — without sufficient public input — from 24 acres to a 64-acre project that would add 1,100 hotel, condo, cottage and time-share units to the state park.

Specifically, the plan would do away much of the parking immediately adjacent to the island's most popular beach.

Chapman repeatedly pointed to the origins of Jekyll Island's acquisition as a state park intended for the enjoyment of average Georgians. "Jekyll Island needs to be rebuilt — not destroyed, not expanded," said Chapman.

Porter and another authority member, Steve Croy, testified that the legislation would kill the public-private redevelopment now underway, by unfairly capping the profits of its private partner, Linger Longer Communities.

"We understand that Jekyll Island is a state park. but people don't come there for a state park experience. They come there to be in a beach atmosphere," Croy said.

In three votes, the Republicans on the Senate Economic Development Committee defeated the bills. Democrats provided Chapman with his only support.Afterwards, Chapman said the outcome was a victory for "the powers that be" — pointing out that the Reynolds family, which controls Linger Longer, is a significant donor to Republican causes.

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02/27 - Senator: Jekyll misrepresented revenue, visitor numbers > Metro
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 02/27/08

A state senator on Tuesday accused the Jekyll Island Authority of misrepresenting revenue and visitor numbers to make the case for more development in the state park.

Sen. Jeff Chapman (R-Brunswick), whose district includes the barrier island, said his research showed the authority under-reported revenue by $11.3 million over the past 10 years. He said it had not reported a reserve account until recently.

"The picture is not as bad [as the authority wants] people to believe it is," he said. "This attitude that they've got to build hundreds and hundreds of condominiums and sell those condominiums and this big commercial hub, and building it on the people's open parking and beach area, is not necessary. It's unwise."

Authority Chairman Ben Porter, a businessman who has developed coastal property, said Tuesday he had not had a chance to review Chapman's numbers.

"I have no idea what he's talking about," Porter said. "I couldn't comment on anything until I see what he said."

Chapman said he has not run his figures, which he got through research in the State Archives, by the authority, which he said had not responded to earlier requests for information.

Chapman is pushing three bills to let the island's hotels and conference center be rebuilt on their existing footprints but not allow more homes or condominiums.

The authority approved a developer's $352 million, 64-acre project to add 1,100 hotel, condo, cottage and time-share units to the park, which would require demolishing the convention center and a parking lot.

"I'm sure everybody would like to have a condo or home in a state park," Chapman said, "but that's simply not the right thing."

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02/27 - Jekyll Island counters senator's claims. Park authority says it didn't fail to report revenues > Metro
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 02/27/08

The Jekyll Island State Park Authority on Wednesday counter-punched a state senator who accused the authority of withholding financial information to make the case for developing and refurbishing the barrier island.

In a statement, authority chairman Ben Porter said Sen. Jeff Chapman (R-Brunswick) "grossly and deliberately misrepresented facts" in a news release issued by the senator on Tuesday. Porter said the authority has not withheld financial information, nor did it fail to report $11 million in revenues over ten years as charged by Chapman.

The authority has cited lack of revenues and declining visitors to promote redevelopment.

"Mr. Chapman's repeated attempts to derail the revitalization of Jekyll Island have failed. Now, he has resorted to false claims to further his effort," said Porter, a Macon businessman who has developed coastal property.

Chapman last year led the charge to prevent development on south end of the island.

Last year, the authority approved a developer's plan to add 1,100 hotel, condo, cottage and time-share units to the park. The $352 million, 64-acre project would require demolishing the existing convention center and a parking lot on the beach.

In his Tuesday news release, Chapman also said a mid-1990s change in the way visitors are counted explains the big drop cited by the authority. Porter stood by the authority's numbers, saying convention business, hotel occupancy, golf courses, the Water Park and all visitation to Jekyll have declined in recent years.

Chapman could not immediately be reached for comment.

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02/28 - Jekyll board stands by its numbers

Date: February 28, 2008
Section(s): Local News

The Brunswick News

The Jekyll Island Authority is denying accusations by state Sen. Jeff Chapman that the authority is distorting its financial picture and the number of annual visitors to the Island.

Chapman, R-Brunswick, contends the authority failed to report more than $11 million in revenue over the past decade and under reported attendance as well.

"We are taking these charges very seriously," said Eric Garvey, director of marketing and business development for the Jekyll Island Authority. "But it appears that Sen. Chapman is trying to defame our reputation.

"This is nothing more than dirty politics."

In an e-mail released Tuesday to the media, Chapman accused the authority of withholding what he calls important financial information from public documents in its 2007 annual report.

"This new information is eye-opening," Chapman said. "I've been working on these numbers for weeks, checking and rechecking to make sure I was as accurate as possible.

"What I found just didn't add up. We discovered that the authority has underreported its revenue by $11,330,368 over the past 10 years in its earning statements."

The authority debunks the accusation, noting that the funds Chapman cites were given to the authority by the state, such as from sales tax grants, and do not have to be reported to state auditors. Adding in those grants would account for the funds Chapman is referring to as unreported, Garvey said.

"This is Sen. Chapman's misunderstanding," said Garvey. "He did not contact us for information and clarification. We have a clean track record."

The authority follows budgetary accounting practices common to nonprofit organizations, he said.

Chapman also claims that the authority misstated the number of visitors to the island. According to Chapman, the authority reported a drop of 1.5 million visitors since the mid-1990s, based on traffic counts.

That number is impossible because the number of individuals staying in island motels has not declined, Chapman said.

Garvey, noting the method of counting visitors was changed in 1997 by the Georgia Department of Transportation, said Chapman's accusations are merely an attempt to halt the Jekyll Island redevelopment plans and the authority's partnership with Linger Longer Communities.

"The senator's claim of improper reporting of Jekyll visitation by the authority is also false and misleading," Garvey said. "Mr. Chapman is well aware that conventions, hotel occupancy, golf courses, the water park and all visitation to Jekyll have declined in recent years.

"Mr. Chapman's repeated attempts to derail the revitalization of Jekyll Island have failed. Now, he has resorted to false claims to further his effort."

Not true, says Chapman. He said his examination of income reports is not an attempt to defame the authority but rather in keeping with the ideals of good stewardship.

"What is the definition of dirty politics? I'm aggravated to hear that," Chapman said. "That is what weak persons say to strong information.

"This is not about politics. It's about taking care of public trust."

Chapman is currently pushing three bills in the General Assembly that would drastically alter, if not altogether stop, a $341 million redevelopment plan.

Under the plan by Linger Longer Communities, a new convention center, new hotels, part-time residences and additional parking would be added to Georgia's only oceanfront state park.

The drive for redevelopment of the island has been spurred by the deterioration of some motels and a claimed drop in the number of visitors.

02/27 -Jekyll proposal is flawed

Date: February 27, 2008
Section(s): Letters

The vast majority of those who have problems with the LLC Village Concept attended a public meeting presentation by Jim Langford, reviewed the scale model on display at Villa Ospo, scrutinized the printed copies of the LLC proposal and participated in discussions and debates held by the Citizens Association.

Not only have we "eyeballed" the plan, we have studied it in minute detail.

I believe you will find, if you take the time to ask us, that we are more knowledgeable than the city commission (except for Cornell Harvey), the county commissioners, the Chamber of Commerce and your editorial staff.

Yes it is true that the Village will only take up a fraction of the park, however that "fraction" is located on the prime beach area that is available at high tide and combined with existing and other planned development will take up over a mile and a half of beach front, a fact not noted in your editorial.

I sincerely invite you and the other LLC supporters to come to Jekyll and let us discuss the facts with you face to face.

Frank Mirasola
Jekyll Island Citizens Association

Opponents not against improvement of Jekyll

I must admit, I resented your editorial of Feb. 22 about Jekyll Island opponents. Most opponents that I have spoken to agree that Jekyll is in need of redevelopment and improvement; however, they simply disagree with how Linger Longer is planning to do this.

Before you accuse opponents of Linger Longer's plan of not knowing the facts, you learn the facts about the opponents of Linger Longer Communities proposal.

We are not anti-improvement; we want to see the island kept affordable for average Georgians who cannot afford a hotel room of $250 a night or a million dollar condo. We are the voice of the "average" Georgian.

Laura Powers

Rep. Kingston not friend to environmental causes

The League of Conservation Voters published their congressional rankings today.

Jack Kingston, Georgia's 1st district representative had a perfect score: 0%. Yes, you read right, zero percent.

What this means is that he did not vote for the environment or conservation on a single bill. What does this mean to you or me?

Judge for yourself. He: Voted against funding clean water programs. Voted against protecting consumers from fuel price gouging. Voted against increasing energy efficiency requirements on products, buildings and vehicles. Voted against funding clean air programs. Voted against investing in alternative energy sources and reducing our dependence on coal and foreign oil. Voted against repealing subsidies to big oil.

Representative Kingston is voting against more than just the environment: He's voting against you and me. With oil companies recording record profits, he continues providing them with subsidies while we pay at the pump. He won't fund clean air or water, necessities for us and future generations.

Neglecting to raise energy efficiency standards or fund alternative energy research hits you and I in the pocketbook and continues to keep us chained to the middle east for oil, and the fossil fuel burners for electric.

This year we have an opportunity to replace Mr. Kingston in Washington. It's about time that Georgia's 1st district had a representative who truly represented their constituents, not special interests and corporations. Remember, our government is by the people and for the people. Representative Kingston has not fulfilled this ethic.

Peter Krull

02/26 - Jekyll plan opposition taken in stride

Date: February 26, 2008
Section(s): Local News
The Brunswick News

Jim Langford remains calm in the face of adversity.

Despite a row of hurdles tossed his way in recent weeks, he has yet to break a sweat.

As project manager for the revitalization Linger Longer Communities is proposing for Jekyll Island, Langford has met with supporters and opponents, backers and detractors.

The $341 million plan calls for new hotels, convention center and condominiums.

Opposition is not unexpected. And it's not as bad as it sounds, he said.

"We expected to have opposition to our plan," Langford said. "But everything is still very much on track. We're not deterred in the least."

Resistance to the plan as outlined by the Jekyll Island Authority and Linger Longer, its private sector partner, extends all the way to the Georgia General Assembly, where bills introduced in the House and Senate threaten to stop or alter the project in a major way.

The most recent legislation was introduced Thursday in the Georgia General Assembly by Democrats, who are calling for greater preservation efforts to be utilized in the redevelopment plan for the island. Introduced by Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Columbus, House Bill 1289 calls for revitalization of the island to be energy efficient, affordable and away from Jekyll's sand dunes.

The Democratic bill comes several weeks after Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, announced a few measures of his own. Chapman, a long-time opponent to Linger Longer's $341 million revamping blueprint, introduced bills earlier this month that would essentially put an end to the project.

Despite the newly launched measures, the Linger Longer agenda is moving forward with overwhelming support from local government, the business community and the Jekyll Island Legislative Oversight Committee, Langford said.

"We still feel that we are being supported," he said. "These new bills are pretty unreasonable and we think that is pretty obvious."

Ed Boshears, former state senator and a member of the board of the Jekyll Island Authority, doesn't understand why debate over the new legislative measures is necessary. Linger Longer's plans are not set in stone and are in the process of being reworked, he said.

In other words, it's too soon to take sides, he said.

"I don't see what everyone is so worked up about," Boshears said. "The Linger Longer plan has yet to be finalized. We don't know what the exact plan will be yet.

Everyone is looking at this as if it's either-or. Either you are for Linger Longer or against it. But you can be for Linger Longer without being for every aspect of their plan."

02/25 - New bill addresses Jekyll

Mon, Feb 25, 2008
The Brunswick news

Jekyll Island is Georgia's Jewel, and Democrats in the state House of Representatives want to make sure it stays that way.
A bill introduced Thursday in the Georgia General Assembly calls for keeping Jekyll Island a natural paradise, although it is not intended to halt Linger Longer Communities redevelopment plans, said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Columbus.
The legislation, House Bill 548, would create energy efficient and green building practices on the island. It also would restrict building on the beachfront property and keep the island affordable to all Georgians.
"We want the redevelopment plan to be environmentally friendly, and we want it to be in the footprints of buildings that are already there," Buckner said. "We also want to know that this will always be a place families can afford to go, and right now, we have questions about that."
Plans proposed by the Jekyll Island Authority and its private sector partner, Linger Longer, call for a $341 million revitalization that will include new hotels and condominiums, as well as a new convention center and retail district.
Buckner's bill is not wholly dissimilar to legislation introduced earlier in the session by Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, who opposes the Linger Longer Communities blueprint for redevelopment.
The key difference, Buckner said, is that her bill coincides with Linger Longer plans for energy efficient development and is not calling for the halting of planned construction.
"The Linger Longer plans are in step with our request for green building practices," she said.
She added, however, that "This bill could impact the Linger Longer plans, but that is not the key purpose."
Ben Porter, chair of the Jekyll Island Authority, doesn't see it her way. He said the measure would drastically change their plans for the island.
"Like the Chapman bills, the proposed House legislation would prohibit the revitalization of Jekyll Island and prevent the improvements which will make Jekyll the most desirable, environmentally-friendly destination on the American coast," Porter said in an email.
Buckner said her actions come from a deep-rooted love for Jekyll, where she spent her childhood riding bikes along the island's sandy shores.
"My grandfather had a bike shop on Norwich Street and we would get bikes there and ride around Jekyll," she said. "We introduced this bill because we just want to keep Jekyll unique. We want it to be beautiful and enjoyed for hundreds of years to come."
Others signing HB 548 include Reps. Brian Thomas, D-Lilburn, Dubose Porter, D-Dublin, Barbara Massey Reece, D-Menlo, and Stephanie Benfield, D-Atlanta.
David Egan, founder of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, said he favors the legislation. He said Buckner's bill falls in step with many measures his organization is hoping to enforce.
"Buckner's bill seems promising," Egan said. "Any bill that seeks to keep the beachfront property protected, we support."