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

03/23 - Jekyll Island redevelopment: Responses to "Jekyll Island deserves a planned, professional upgrade," issue: March 17 > Opinion
By Frank Mirasola, David Kyler, Jody Butler, Mary Shepherd, Charles Busfield
For the Journal-Constitution
Published on: 03/23/08

Lift the lid of the stew pot and find some very unsavory ingredients bubbling

Everything Jay Bookman says about Jekyll Island deserving a planned, professional upgrade is on target. Why is that not happening now? Lift the lid on the stew pot and you can see the ingredients: politicians, developers, bankers, lobbyists, hired toadys and big-time professional "bag men." Nary a conservationist, preservationist or steward for the common good in the crowd.

Even a cursory look at the numbers tells you they are bogus. If they are willing to lie about the small stuff, what are they not telling you about the big stuff? Remember the $10 million tax abatement for a hotel project, the $11.3 million "rainy day" fund, the $25 million to fix infrastructure to facilitate the private partner's revitalization effort? All this bears looking into. It's time to call a halt to this land grab. Let's go back to square one and do it the right way.

Mirasola is president of the Jekyll Island Citizens Association.

Transparency lacking

Jay Bookman's insightful recommendations for planning Jekyll Island prior to redeveloping it parallel our own recommendations for analysis of visitation capacity. Having a reliable capacity target is essential for the state park's revitalization effort to be successful.

Like developing private property, determining the scale, location and composition of development depends on analysis of needs, options and limitations. Unlike developing private property, an important goal for Jekyll Island is fulfilling a thoughtfully defined public interest. By proposing to commit millions of dollars in public funds to support private development without knowing what is needed, the Jekyll Island Authority has accomplished neither.

The great potential legacy for all involved, including the governor, is being squandered by the JIA's aversion to transparency and meaningful public involvement.

Kyler is executive director of the Center for a Sustainable Coast.

Current proposal is one beaut of a sellout

Thanks to Jay Bookman for highlighting the problems with the Jekyll Island Authority's plan to revitalize Jekyll Island. The current proposal calls for considerable development on the island and changes that would impact Jekyll's ecology and the ability of average Georgians to stay in their own state park. State Sen. Jeff Chapman (R-Brunswick) sponsored a bill to protect Jekyll's beaches from private development and preserve the island's affordability. The bill was killed in committee in a quick vote. The authority should listen to citizens concerned with keeping Jekyll affordable for average Georgians and protecting its rare beauty, rather than selling out to the highest bidder.

JODY BUTLER, Carrollton

Island authority time and again ignores wishes of the majority

The Jekyll Island Authority has disappointed our constituents time and time again in favor of high-density development, which has been proved to be unnecessary and detrimental to that island's delicate ecology. The authority seems absolutely determined to ignore the wishes of the majority.

Speaking for citizens of Georgia who will not have access to the kind of development planned, and who seem to have no voice in this matter, I urge everyone to rally against this planned desecration of one of our most valuable natural resources!


Aggressive plans aren't in line with Georgians' best interests

I appreciate the articles published by the AJC over the past weeks informing Georgia citizens about aggressive development plans for Jekyll Island. While Jekyll needs improvements, the current plans are aggressive in the extreme and threaten what Jekyll has long been about. Its fate should be in line with the rightful wishes and best interests of millions of Georgians, not just a nine-member supervisory board whose judgment and practices on this issue have raised serious worthwhile debate.


03/21 - Jekyll Island gets boost

By Dan Chapman
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 03/21/08

Protection of Jekyll Island's pristine main beach received a legislative boost Thursday when the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee voted to keep the 1/2 mile stretch of sand development-free.

However, many legislative and political hurdles remain for those who want to prevent condos and hotel rooms from lining the beach near the entrance to the state park, as a developer proposes.

"Part of our coast is under attack right now," said Rep. Debbie Buckner (D-Junction City), whose amendment to Senate Bill 367 passed 9-8. The coastal management measure "would keep open the only remaining beach on Georgia's coast that citizens can drive up to."

Now, some of the island's hotels, shops and recreational offerings wear the worn look of an old couch. Developer Linger Longer proposes a $352 million "town center" project —- condos, hotel rooms, time-share units, shops, restaurants and green space —- on 64 acres between Jekyll's dunes and maritime forest.

But public opinion is mixed on the developer's plans for the 7.5-mile-long barrier island. Linger Longer says it will unveil soon a scaled-back project.

The Jekyll Island Authority, which manages the state park, must approve any development and sign a contract with Linger Longer. Buckner and other legislators, however, don't trust the authority to do the public's bidding.

"It's the public's park. It's their land. It's their property rights," Buckner said. "So it's our responsibility to help them in their efforts to protect what they hold dear."

The legislation prohibits development along 2,500 feet of beach north of the island's convention center.

The bill's next stop is the House Rules Committee, whose members typically vote with the House leadership, most of whom already have given public support to Jekyll redevelopment.

Sen. Ross Tolleson (R-Perry), who sponsored SB 367, vowed to fight the amended bill in House Rules as well as later on the Senate floor, if necessary.

"I'd like to see Jekyll Island redeveloped," Tolleson said in a brief interview. "A lot of people just don't go there anymore."

If stymied in Rules, Buckner said she might play another legislative card by taking a similar measure to the House floor, in a ploy used successfully last year to protect Jekyll's south end from development.

"If we get it to the floor, we'll have a majority of votes in both houses" to protect the beach, Sierra Club lobbyist Neill Herring said. "Yeah, I'm optimistic."

03/20 - Jekyll Island beach protection clears House committee > Metro
UPDATED: 6:57 p.m. March 20, 2008
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 03/20/08

Protection of Jekyll Island's pristine main beach received a legislative boost Thursday when the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee voted to keep the half-mile stretch of sand development-free.

However, many legislative and political hurdles remain for those who want to prevent condos and hotel rooms from lining the beach near the entrance to the state park, as a developer proposes.

"Part of our coast is under attack right now," said Rep. Debbie Buckner (D-Junction City), whose amendment to Senate Bill 367 passed 9-8. The coastal management measure "would keep open the only remaining beach on Georgia's coast that citizens can drive up to."

Now, some of the island's hotels, shops and recreational offerings wear the worn look of an old couch. Developer Linger Longer proposes a $352 million "town center" project -- condos, hotel rooms, time-share units, shops, restaurants and green space -- on 64 acres between Jekyll's dunes and maritime forest.

But public opinion is mixed on the developer's plans for the 7.5-mile-long barrier island. Linger Longer says it will soon unveil a scaled-back project.

The Jekyll Island Authority, which manages the state park, must approve any development and sign a contract with Linger Longer. Buckner and other legislators, however, don't trust the authority to do the public's bidding.

"It's the public's park. It's their land. It's their property rights," Buckner said. "So it's our responsibility to help them in their efforts to protect what they hold dear."

The legislation prohibits development along 2,500 feet of beach north of the island's convention center.

The bill's next stop is the House Rules Committee, whose members typically vote with the House leadership, most of whom already have given public support to Jekyll redevelopment.

Sen. Ross Tolleson (R-Perry), who sponsored S.B. 367, vowed to fight the amended bill in House Rules as well as later on the Senate floor, if necessary.

"I'd like to see Jekyll Island redeveloped," Tolleson said in a brief interview. "A lot of people just don't go there anymore."

If stymied in Rules, Buckner said she might play another legislative card on the House floor, in a ploy used successfully last year to protect Jekyll's south end from development.

"If we get it to the floor, we'll have a majority of votes in both houses" to protect the beach, Sierra Club lobbyist Neill Herring said. "Yeah, I'm optimistic."

03/17 - Jekyll Island deserves a planned, professional upgrade > Opinion
By Jay Bookman
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 03/17/08

After a few days playing golf at Jekyll Island State Park this month, two things became painfully clear:

My golf game needs some major rehabilitation.

So does a lot of the island.

Jekyll is a special place, with lots of history and natural beauty, not to mention reasonably priced golf courses. And although it is hardly unspoiled, it is far less commercialized than other coastal resorts such as St. Simons and Hilton Head.

It is also a lot less expensive, the only resort along the coast that is still affordable to the majority of Georgians.

However, much of Jekyll's infrastructure —- its motels, its commercial district and restaurants, its convention center —- is outmoded and in decline. Visits to the island have been falling slowly over time as a result.

In response, the Jekyll Island Authority —- charged with running the park —- has committed to upgrade those facilities. Its goal is "to revitalize the island in a comprehensive way," says Eric Garvey, the authority's director of marketing.

Unfortunately, that's not what's happening. There is no comprehensive, overall plan for revitalizing Jekyll. Instead, it is occurring in a slapdash, piecemeal, unplanned fashion that endangers what makes the island special.

How many more hotel rooms can the island sustain without compromising its laid-back charm? How many peak-season visitors can it handle? What proportion of rooms should be priced for economy visitors? There are no answers to those and other important questions, a fact that has raised understandable alarm among those who love the island.

According to Garvey, the authority has plans to commission a company to conduct a study and then write a report to address such questions. But while preparations for plans to study are under way, the authority has already committed to major projects that have the potential to dramatically alter the island's character, including construction of more than 1,000 new hotel rooms and condominium units near the island's most popular beach. Several other expansions are also under way or planned, with others yet to come.

Taken separately, those projects may have merit. But on a small island such as Jekyll, they will not be experienced separately. Those developments and subsequent projects will have a cumulative and unknown impact. And while state law does limit development to 35 percent of the island, there is no limit on the density of that development.

The slapdash, amateurish nature of the revitalization effort is also apparent in how the authority has handled criticism of its efforts. The authority's nine-member board of directors is a public body, entrusted with a cherished public asset, and as such it has to expect to be the target of criticism. If some of that criticism has seemed unfair to authority members ... well, that comes with the territory. But rather than lance such suspicion with openness, it has reacted with anger and denial.

At the moment, that suspicion is being fueled by data purportedly showing a 47 percent decline in car traffic to the island since 1996. The number is cited often to justify major changes.

However, even a cursory look at the source of that number tells you it is bogus. Nonetheless, board members and authority staff have responded angrily and unprofessionally to those who have challenged it. Even now, the authority refuses to acknowledge that the number is wrong, as if any concession to their critics is impossible.

"I can't say it is and I can't say it isn't," Garvey said last week.

In itself, the number isn't all that important. But the way it is being mishandled explains a lot about the suspicions generated in this controversy.

Everyone agrees that visits to Jekyll are down; everyone agrees that its infrastructure needs updating. An authority more open to the public, more professional in its approach and less arrogant in its operations would be able to build on that agreement and accomplish something important.

> Jay Bookman is deputy editorial page editor. His column runs Monday and Thursday. (

03/16 - OPEN GOVERNMENT HEROES: BABS McDONALD and MINDY and DAVID EGAN, Jekyll Island activists: How many visitors does island get? > Opinion
By Lori Johnston
For the Journal-Constitution
Published on: 03/16/08

Babs McDonald realizes that open government comes with a price.

Earlier this year, McDonald, who lives in Athens, requested documents from the Jekyll Island Authority concerning sharp declines in the number of people visiting the island.

The information she wanted was not in one file, the authority responded, but she was free to examine all the files she wished —- 186 boxes containing 1,000 pages each, at a cost of $425. Or she could order copies of everything, which would come to $46,500.

"I could just imagine myself walking into a room with a monitor, i.e. guard, and looking at these boxes. Where would I begin?" said McDonald, who works for the U.S. Forest Service. "As a citizen of the state and as a scientist, I believe they ought to be held accountable for sharing how they arrived at those figures. I can't imagine that the information would be on 180,000 pieces of paper."

Eric Garvey, senior director of marketing and business development for the authority, said the authority's staff was not able to reasonably fulfill McDonald's request.

"She wanted all these archived documents. It was unfortunate that it did seem like a lot of money," he said.

McDonald and others involved in the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, which claims 10,000 members, are concerned about plans for a giant $352 million redevelopment of the island by Linger Longer Communities. The plan envisions a "town center" built on 63 acres on Jekyll with hotels, condominiums, time shares, a convention center and a retail center. It also calls for park space and an environmental education center.

Opponents say the authority, known as the JIA, has not been forthcoming in responding to requests for information related to the project.

Garvey dismisses those charges.

"Not only does the Jekyll Island Authority take its responsibility to open government seriously with respect to documents, we also answer any correspondence we receive," he wrote in an e-mail to the AJC. "We understand we are a public entity, and if someone requests a document, most often times it is just handed to them. We do get more formal requests from time to time, and those we log and coordinate responses with our representative from the attorney general's office."

David and Mindy Egan are the founders and co-directors of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island. Part of the Egans' argument about the Linger Longer redevelopment plan is that the JIA has understated the number of visitors to Jekyll as a way of showing that the island is in need of redevelopment.

David Egan says visitation has not declined by 47 percent between 1996 and 2007, as the JIA reported, but by 15 percent.

In addition, the group is often told that information it wants from the JIA is not available, Egan says, or the information is not provided in a timely fashion.

The activist said he has not received a response to questions submitting in writing earlier this year about the original master plan for a 24-acre development, which now has more than doubled in size. When he asked that question at a board meeting in January, he says he was told to submit the request in writing.

"You get a question that people don't want to answer, and the response is, 'Stick it in writing.' You stick it in writing, and it dies," he said.

Garvey, the JIA's marketing chief, said the authority has "no record of receiving this question in a letter or in e-mail." He added that "we reject the charge that the JIA is not responsive to the public, and we are prepared to demonstrate our responsiveness with copies of our log, copies of correspondence, etc."

The Egans have set up a Web site —- —- and have become lightning rods in the debate over Jekyll's future. They joined forces with McDonald in Athens and also found an ally in Atlantan Dory Ingram, a frequent Jekyll visitor who worries about the barrier island.

"Mindy and David have been completely dedicated to seeing that the visitors to Jekyll Island and the people of Georgia get their say" about development on the island, Ingram said. "This year, we've become a pretty prominent voice. It's obvious that somebody out there is listening and is aware that the people are trying to make their voice heard."

Babs McDonald, meanwhile, believes the Georgia Open Records Act is a vital tool. It was passed "so that government can be accountable, even when it doesn't really want to be accountable," she said.

"I guess I wish that the people of the state would demand, because it is their state park, that the JIA open up its records," McDonald said. "If they can't, I think we ought to say, 'Uh-uh, you can't do this kind of project and not be accountable for the numbers.' "

03/13 - Jekyll Island figures just don't add up > Business
State auditor reports that visitor figures are good
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 03/13/08

Image: The Jekyll Island Authority seeks the massive construction of hotels and condos to boost visitation, while residents oppose. An audit shows the island already turns a profit. - Keith Hadley/AJC Staff

Jekyll Island — depending on who's talking — is either in danger of financially slipping into the Atlantic Ocean or is competently keeping its nose above water.

Jekyll's governing body and development partner Linger Longer say the state park is in dire straits, showing a precipitous decline in both visitors and revenues over the last 15 years. Only the construction of hundreds of condos and hotel rooms can save the state park, they say.

"A significant revitalization is something that will make Jekyll a compelling destination," said Linger Longer's Jim Langford.

But wait just a minute.

According to the state auditor, the region's top legislator and a citizens' group, Jekyll Island's condition isn't that critical. The park still makes money. Visitation drops, on average, only one percent a year. With a few new hotels and shops, Jekyll will be as good as new, they say.

"The Authority and Linger Longer are crying wolf and painting this picture of a rundown Jekyll so they can maximize their commercial activity," said Sen. Jeff Chapman (R-Brunswick), whose district includes Jekyll.

Authority officials and Linger Longer repeatedly cite a 47 percent drop in visitors to Jekyll as justification for large-scale development of the state park.

Jekyll officials say that car traffic, hotel occupancy and convention-center business have dropped significantly the last decade. And, for the first time in years, the state park registered a deficit in fiscal 2006, according to the Jekyll Island Authority's annual report.

It's a bleak picture. Problem is, it's not quite accurate.

In its 2006 annual report, the Authority stated it was $210,575 in the red. But the Authority actually turned a profit of $1,950,081 that year, according to the state auditor's office.

In all, the Authority's annual statements under-reported revenues by $11.3 million since fiscal 1997, according to a state auditor, John Thornton.

Nobody accuses the Authority of misappropriating the money. The Authority didn't include federal grants for historic preservation, or local sales tax revenues used for sewer projects, as overall earnings, according to Eric Garvey, the Authority's marketing and business development director. Instead, the money went into capital reserve accounts not listed in annual reports.

Chapman said the reserve account kept the information from being easily available to the public.

"The JIA Annual Reports are not prepared in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles," Thornton wrote to Chapman on Feb. 14. "As such, we do not believe the JIA Annual Reports from 1997 through 2007 provide an accurate picture of JIA's annual revenues or expenditures."

Garvey denied that facts and figures are misused to portray a negative impression of Jekyll. He likened the annual reports to "marketing" documents and "snapshots of our annual performance.

The 7.5-mile long barrier island near Brunswick is poised for massive redevelopment by Linger Longer and others. Langford's company proposes a $352 million "town center" project with hotels, condos, shops and parks running from the dunes to the maritime forest. Langford said a revised project — "with significant changes" — should be unveiled by early April.

Chapman, along with a statewide citizens' group, has tried to thwart Linger Longer's plans. The senator introduced three bills this legislative session to keep new development off the beach, as well as to ensure the affordability of most new lodgings for middle-class Georgians, as state law intends. All bills were roundly defeated in committee last month.

Chapman first grew suspicious of the Authority's redevelopment plans last June when the island's governing body hurriedly granted the Trammell Crow Co., builders of a beachside hotel and condo project, a $10 million rent abatement. Chapman earlier this year asked the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts to investigate the Authority's books.

"JIA has given the distorted impression that it was on the brink of financial insolvency," Chapman said in a Feb. 26 statement.

Said Garvey, "We want our annual earnings statement to be reflective of what we're able to generate through normal business activity. Our full financial accounting is audited each year and, as far back as we know, we've received clean management reports from state auditors."

Thornton concurred.

The drop-off in visitation claimed by the Authority and Linger Longer is another dispute. Between 1996 and 1997, the number of estimated visits to Jekyll plummeted from 3.5 million to 1.9 million — a 44 percent drop, according to data compiled by the Authority.

But that year, the counting method was flawed, according to Ken Cordell, a U.S. Forest Service expert on park visitation. Cordell compared the count gathered by Jekyll with one compiled by the Georgia Department of Transportation. The DOT figures showed only a slight drop-off in traffic that year.

State auditors also reported that parking fee revenues in 1996 and 1997 barely changed. Authority records show that hotel occupancy rates dipped only 1.9 percent during that time period. And the number of visitors taking historic district tours actually rose 10 percent.

"It is a relatively safe assumption that something about the JIA method of counting and estimating visitation changed between 1996 and 1997," Cordell concluded.

David Egan, co-director of the nonprofit Initiative to Protect Jekyll, the citizens' group opposed to large-scale redevelopment of the state park, said the Authority stopped counting decals affixed to cars owned by island residents or frequent visitors. In all, Egan said, visitation has declined by 15 percent — not the 47 percent claimed by the Authority and Linger Longer — between 1996 and 2007.

Garvey said he didn't want to haggle over statistics.

"We're much more interested in the future," he said.

03/06 - Jekyll Island falls victim to GOP and its corporate cohorts > Opinion
By Dennis Rice
For the Journal-Constitution
Published on: 03/06/08

In spite of tremendous public opposition, the Republican members of the Jekyll Island Authority have voted to whittle away a portion of Jekyll Island with unnecessary and unwanted condominiums and other developments along the beachfront. This giveaway is all about Republican politics solely for the benefit of Linger Longer Corp.

Regardless of their efforts to change the public's mind, I have not heard anyone, other than the corporation and its supporting Republican politicians, who is in favor of the developments proposed by Linger Longer. No doubt, this is politics as usual. What's good for the natural environment of Jekyll Island and those who enjoy its naturalness doesn't count for a thing in the eyes of those who only see money. Shame is not a word they know.


03/22 - Jekyll defense now up to Plan B

The Florida Times-Union
March 22, 2008
Times-Union correspondent

Image: CHRIS VIOLA/The Times-UnionA group of 20-foot tall pines in the parking lot of the Jekyll Island Convention Center is considered a boundary for development on the beach.

JEKYLL ISLAND - Two days before a House committee voted to ban development along Jekyll Island's main beach, a state agency delineated a large portion of the same area as an environmentally sensitive zone.

With the ban standing little chance of passage, laws designed to protect sensitive dunes inside that zone may be conservationists' best recourse in curbing development along the beach.

While Linger Longer Communities, Jekyll Island's development partner, said it can make design changes to meet the environmental standards and permit requirements, conservation groups say it's going to be tougher than they think.

The state Department of Natural Resources' survey showed nearly half of Jekyll's proposed beachfront village will fall within Georgia Shore Protection Act jurisdiction. The Jekyll Island Authority, the island's governing body, had anticipated portions of the development would be affected and had requested the survey in January.

"We take our charge to protect the unique and unspoiled beaches of Jekyll Island very seriously," authority board Chairman Ben Porter said in a statement released Tuesday.

Georgia's Shore Protection Act restricts construction on the landward side of dunes in order to protect the natural flow of the sand that maintains them. The dune system, in turn, protects people and property from storm surges and erosion, said Susan Shipman, director of the DNR's Coastal Resources Division.

To determine the area that falls within the act's jurisdiction, survey crews find the first trees 20 feet and taller west of the dunes and then draw lines between them. Anything on the ocean side of the resulting line is considered to be under the Shore Protection Act. In order to be granted construction permits, buildings within the jurisdictional area must be hurricane resistant and a third of the land must remain in a natural state, Shipman has said.

An official from developer Linger Longer Communities says the company is taking the news of the jurisdiction line in stride.

"We know this is just part of working on the coast," said Jim Langford, project executive for Linger Longer. "We had already planned some significant changes [to our proposed design] based on public input. We are comfortable working with the Shore Protection recommendations and will take the jurisdiction line into account."

Langford said part of the beach village's convention center hotel site, part of the retail district, condominiums and time-share units will be affected by the Shore Protection delineation. He believes his company can accommodate the one-third no-build restriction, because the overall development incorporates 40 percent green space already.

"It might mean moving things around a little bit. It might mean setting things back from the beach," he said.

David Egan of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, a grass-roots group advocating restrained development on Jekyll, noted the restrictions will affect one of the densest portions of the Linger Longer development.

Much of the beach village's proposed green space was planned for the island interior, not the beach, he said.

Egan says the Jekyll Island Authority did developers no favor by choosing a beachfront parcel for development.

"What did they expect they would put there, a park?" he said. "A developer is going to put hotels and condos to maximize their profit. You can't blame them for doing that."

Officials with Center for a Sustainable Coast, an environmental watchdog group, agree that Linger Longer will need to change its design to comply with Shore Protection requirements.

"You have hardened structures, houses, walls and condominiums in a highly erodeable area," said Wesley Woolf, managing director of the organization. "That's not a smart business decision and it's not a smart natural resource preservation decision."

David Kyler, executive director for Center for a Sustainable Coast, says the requirement to protect shoreline areas within the act's jurisdiction is more complex than a simple one-third no-build requirement.

"The DNR has a responsibility to protect the dunes. They can require two-thirds or more if they believe there will be an impact to the sand sharing system," he said.

This story can be found on at

03/21 - Close win in Jekyll fight

The Florida Times-Union
March 21, 2008
By Brandon Larrabee
The Times-Union

ATLANTA - A narrow vote by a House panel rejuvenated efforts to protect a half-mile of open beach on Jekyll Island, but the measure approved Thursday faces a steep uphill climb before it becomes law.

On a 9-8 vote, the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee attached an amendment barring condominiums and other high-end accommodations on the popular beach to a Senate measure that would remove the expiration date of Georgia's Coastal Management Act.

The amendment was sparked by concerns over a $352 million plan by Linger Longer Communities, developer of the posh Reynolds Plantation resort on Lake Oconee, to redevelop the state park.

"This would be a way for us to protect what is open beach, and it would be an opportunity as our population grows for there to always be an open access to public beach in a public park that's owned by the public," said Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Junction City, who offered the amendment. "It'll give us an opportunity to have this as a first-class amenity for our citizens in their park."

Residents and visitors who had fought for the protections were guardedly optimistic after the first win after a series of defeats for similar measures in the House and Senate.

"I'm pleased that the public still has an opportunity to get protections for the island," said Dory Ingram, a volunteer lobbyist for the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island.

Lawmakers opposed to the measure, though, said the amendment trampled on the work done by the Jekyll Island Authority to revamp the state park's sagging tourist infrastructure.

"We have given the responsibilities to the Jekyll Island Authority of overseeing the development of that state property, and for us to go in and do something like this, I think, purely is micromanaging ...," said Rep. John Heard, R-Lawrenceville.

Eric Garvey, a spokesman for the authority, said the agency had already asked the Department of Natural Resources to clearly mark the area where no new construction could take place without a permit.

"The Jekyll Island Authority is committed to complying with all those limitations," Garvey said. "We embrace that, and we don't think there needs to be additional limitations added."

Buckner said the public outcry over building on the beach should carry the day.

"It is their park," Buckner said. "It is their land. It is their property rights that are being violated if it's developed in a way other than what they would prefer. And so it's our responsibility, I feel, to help them in their efforts to protect what they hold near and dear."

Opponents also raised concerns that the maneuver could endanger the Coastal Management Act, which brings federal funds and coastal protections to the state.

"We are commingling a lot of stuff here, and I think there is confusion," said Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee Chairman Ross Tolleson, R-Perry, who sponsored the original bill.

The measure still faces several challenges. The amendment still has to survive the House Rules Committee, which controls the bills that go to the House floor. The panel can also rewrite measures to its liking.

Even if the protections get through the House, they still have to gain Senate approval to be sent to Gov. Sonny Perdue for his signature or veto.

"We just have to keep taking a bite at the apple and hoping something's going to get to the core," Buckner said., (678) 977-3709

This story can be found on at

03/19 - Protect Georgia's resources

The Florida Times-Union
March 19, 2008
Special to the Times-Union

From scenic mountains, through dense pine forests, along rushing rivers and to our spectacular coast, Georgia has a diverse landscape that is home to an abundance of plants and animals.

Safeguarding our wild places for future generations is a priority for Georgia, and the General Assembly must ensure funding to protect our natural landscapes.

In his 2009 proposed budget, Gov. Sonny Perdue has requested $35 million for the Georgia Land Conservation Program. This program, created in 2005 and funded each year by the state legislature, helps enhance the state's natural and cultural legacy by permanently protecting strategic parcels of land for conservation.

Our barrier islands, such as Ossabaw and Jekyll, are wonderful examples of natural areas in our own backyard that provide families in our community with a connection to nature.

If appropriated, these funds will allow communities across the state to continue protecting areas around them for recreational uses, such as hiking, hunting and fishing.

As the population of Georgia continues to grow at a rapid pace, we must act now to set aside and protect areas from development that compromise the integrity of our wild places.

Supporting the allocation of funds in the budget for the Georgia Land Conservation Program will give local governments and conservation organizations a tool to owffset the loss of land to development.

With the recent drought, water quality and quantity has become a top concern for many Georgia residents.

We cannot neglect the role that land protection has on our freshwater resources. Land protection can ensure lower population density and limit the harmful effects of polluted runoff in sensitive areas.

Georgia is home to many major corporations.

Our abundance of natural resources is one of the primary reasons our state is such a good place to do business.

To continue enjoying this smart economic growth across the state, we must ensure thoughtful and informed land management strategies that benefit the quality of life and continue to attract business and industry to Georgia.

Supporting the Georgia Land Conservation Program will help us reach this goal and demonstrate that we consider land stewardship a top priority for all areas of our state, especially coastal Georgia.

Georgia's Conservancy Board
Savannah, Ga.

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03/07 - Bill to limit building on Jekyll dies in House

The Florida Times-Union
March 7, 2008
By Brandon Larrabee,
The Times-Union

ATLANTA - A proposal that would have restricted new development on Jekyll Island's beachfront and set up new standards to protect its traditional role as an affordable getaway essentially died in committee Thursday.

But supporters, convinced that the measure reflects what Georgians want for "the people's island," said they would scramble to find another way to push the regulations through the General Assembly, perhaps by tacking the measure onto another bill before the legislative session ends in early April.

"The citizens have spoken," said Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Junction City, who sponsored the measure. "We haven't listened. The island belongs to the people of Georgia, and as a landowner, they should be able to have a voice on what happens on the island."

Under House Bill 1289, an open beachfront on the Atlantic Ocean side of the island would have been largely shielded from development. And at least 50 percent of new hotel rooms built in an effort to revitalize the island would have to have rates "comparable" to the nightly rate state employees get for hotel rooms when on official business, or about $128.

Citing a lack of time before a crucial legislative deadline, a House subcommittee set up to consider H.B. 1289 decided to take no action on the measure.

Members of the panel said it would be too late to get the bill through the full State Institutions and Property Committee and to the House floor by Tuesday, the 30th working day of the legislative session, when bills must either pass one chamber or die.

"Day 30 is Tuesday," said Rep. Mike Cheokas, D-Americus. "And we won't be able to make a committee meeting until after Day 30."

A similar measure was killed last week by the Senate Economic Development Committee.

The Jekyll Island Authority, which manages the island for the state, has argued that the measure would kill a planned $352 million development by Linger Longer Communities, developer of the posh Reynolds Plantation resort on Lake Oconee.

Instead, committee members said the House might be willing to consider a nonbinding resolution urging the Jekyll Island Authority to follow some of the standards Buckner's bill would have put in state law.

Supporters of Buckner's measure accused the subcommittee of intentionally moving slowly, delaying the subcommittee meeting for several days before taking it up Thursday.

"They dragged their heels on setting a date for the subcommittee," said David Egan, head of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, a grass-roots organization that has been critical of the Linger Longer proposal.

But the battle over Jekyll isn't completely over, Buckner said, noting the end of the session doesn't come until the close of the 40th working day.

"I'm not going to give up hope yet," she said. "We have at least 10 legislative days.", (678) 977-3709.
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03/04 - Opponents set sights on 'the people's beach'

The Florida Times-Union
March 4, 2008
By Brandon Larrabee
The Times-Union

Image (top): CHRIS VIOLA/The Times-Union: On the beachThirty-year residents of Jekyll Island Ann Stephens (left) and Fran Cerrato take their daily walk on the beach past the Jekyll Island Convention Center on Monday. Both said they wanted to see the development of commercial properties including hotels and a shopping center, but they are concerned that beach access might be limited by the condominiums.
Image (bottom): Brandon Larrabee/The Times-Union: Sen. Jack Murphy, R-Cumming, holds up an aerial photograph of Jekyll Island and a sketch of Linger Longer's planned development along a popular beachfront. The beachfront is at the center of this year's battle over Jekyll redevelopment.

ATLANTA - In the fight over the direction of Jekyll Island redevelopment, the battlefield keeps shifting from one part of the barrier island to another.

Last year, the focus for those who wanted to shield the island from overdevelopment was the ecologically fragile south end, where sea turtles nested and where a 4-H Center and nationally known soccer field were located.

This year, ground zero has shifted to a patch of beach that is one of the first sights that visitors to the island see and is at the center of Linger Longer Communities' $352 million plan to revitalize Jekyll's sagging tourist infrastructure.

Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, chief sponsor of a measure aimed at prohibiting additional development along that beachfront, said he and supporters thought they were dealing with most of the land that needed specific protection when they pushed through legislation shielding the south end.

"But no one had any idea that, now, they were going to move and build condos on the most popular public beach area," he said.

The reason the beach is precious, supporters say, comes from its position. The beach is the one most open to the public along the Atlantic Ocean side of Jekyll. Go south, and there are hotels and the protected south end. Go north, and the beach narrows and gets swallowed up during high tides.

"There just isn't another place to go like that," said David Egan, head of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island.

Opponents of restrictions on the beachfront say it would hamper Linger Longer's efforts and prevent the developer and the Jekyll Island Authority from moving the "footprint" of buildings in a way that might end up more favorable for Jekyll.

And the plan will only take up about 8 percent of the beachfront on Jekyll, while the beach on the other side of the buildings will still be just as open to the public.

"It's pure nonsense to think that you're going to have a beach accommodation but you're not going to have any structures on the beach," said Steve Croy, a member of the authority board who spoke at a recent Senate committee hearing where Chapman's bills were voted down.

Egan counters that there are already more beachfront rooms being added on other parts of Jekyll, and that the size of the land doesn't matter as much as its worth to the public - and others.

"There's something real special about it to the developer as well as to the visitor," Egan said of what's called "the people's beach."

Efforts to pass legislation like Chapman's aren't officially dead. A similar measure by Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Junction City, is now in a special House subcommittee, though it would likely fare little better in the Senate panel than did Chapman's. Sponsors could try to amend the restrictions onto other legislation if they can find a bill that would make the amendment relevant.

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03.25 - Sneaky tactic affects Jekyll Island's future

Sneaky tactic affects Jekyll Island's future
Date: March 25, 2008
Section(s): Commentary

It is a common practice among politicians, but that doesn't make attaching unwanted amendments to popular legislation right. It's a sneaky, back-door tactic that is tantamount to trying to shove something distasteful and unnecessary down the throats of Georgians.

This is what Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Columbus, is doing. She's resorting to this old-time political trick after running into a brick wall when trying earlier this session of the General Assembly to get legislation through that would throw a wrench into plans by Linger Longer Communities to rejuvenate Jekyll Island.

Rep. Buckner tacked her bill in the form of an amendment onto legislation that would extend the life of the Coastal Zone Management Act by removing the act's expiration date.

Because of the amendment, the legislation narrowly escaped defeat in the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee Thursday, passing 9-8. Now, those who depend on the Coastal Zone Management Act for funding to protect coastal resources are apprehensive about the future of CZM.

Rep. Buckner's amendment seeks to block certain development from certain areas of the Jekyll Island waterfront. It's built upon the pretense that the public will no longer have access to the beach if the $342 million revitalization plan is allowed to go forward as is.

To begin with, no one knows what the final version of the plan will be. Secondly, why would anyone spend or invest $342 million in a project that would deny people access to the one drawing card that Jekyll Island has, which is the beach? It just wouldn't make sense.

What Rep. Buckner is attempting to do is micro-manage the repair and long-overdue overhaul of Jekyll Island.

Jekyll Island has gone nowhere but downhill over the past two decades. It will continue the current rate of descension unless politicians stop trying to crush or maim every plan that professional consultants come up with to improve the island.

03/22 - Fight flares anew to stop Jekyll plan

Date: March 22, 2008
Section(s): Local News
The Brunswick News

Jekyll Island and state officials are concerned about the impact an amendment attached to a House bill will have on the Georgia park and coast.

The amendment, attached to Senate legislation that seeks to remove the upcoming expiration date of the Georgia Coastal Zone Management Act, takes aim at the $342 million revitalization project planned for state-owned Jekyll Island by Linger Longer Communities.

Introduced by Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Columbus, the amendment bars condominiums and other luxury accommodations - as proposed in Linger Longer's plan - on a half-mile section of beach on the island.

It would block from development the beach area at the existing convention center.

The House Natural Resources and Environment Committee narrowly passed the amendment in a 9-8 vote Thursday.

Buckner's amendment stems from some fears that the redevelopment project will block public access to the open beach area.

"I'm very concerned about (Jekyll Island) becoming overdeveloped," Buckner said. "It is a public beach and a public park. It seems to me since this is the only open public (state park) beach left on the Georgia coast, it should stay the way the people want it. And the people have spoken."

The amendment would not do harm to Jekyll, Buckner said. Instead, it could make Linger Longer rethink plans, which in her opinion, is not a bad thing.

"The only plausible thing it could do is make the developers go back to the drawing board," Buckner said. "And that's not a bad thing."

Measures introduced earlier in the session by Buckner and by Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, to accomplish the same objective were withdrawn or defeated. That's why Buckner decided to attach it to another bill.

Susan Shipman, director of the Coastal Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, is concerned about what might happen to extending the Coastal Zone Management Act if the legislation fails to pass because of the amendment.

"I am very concerned with the reaction to the bill from under the gold dome," she said, referring to state legislators in the Capitol. "Based on past Jekyll bill track records, bills (to halt renovation) have not made it very far. It concerns me greatly."

Created in 1997, the Georgia Coastal Zone Management Act allows the state to participate in and to receive funds from the federal Coastal Management Act. The act has a sunset provision and is set to expire in July 2009 unless legislators take action.

Under the act, area organizations receive funds to help conserve, research and rehabilitate sensitive areas of the coast, as well as work to develop outreach and education initiatives for 11 counties in the region.

"This act is multifaceted and very diverse," Shipman said. "It allows for better management of the coast and the federal grants provide a substantial portion of our annual funding."

Shipman is not the only one who is concerned. Linger Longer project manager Jim Langford said he is disappointed by Buckner's actions.

"It's unfortunate that the Coastal Georgia Management (Act) extension was encumbered by this Jekyll legislation, that it is an attempt to restrict our renovation efforts," Langford said. "It's not good legislation and it puts unnecessary restrictions on Jekyll."

Similar thoughts about the amendment were echoed by the Jekyll Island Authority. As the agency that oversees island development and preservation, the authority sees the amendment as unnecessary, said Eric Garvey, senior marketing director for Jekyll Island.

"(We) hope that it can be stopped without affecting the Coastal Management Act, which is important environmental legislation," Garvey said.

The amendment faces obstacles. It's next stop is the House Rules Committee, which includes House Majority Leader Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island. Keen supports revitalization plans for Jekyll Island.

Chapman feels differently. If the amendment is not adopted, public access to the open beach will be lost, he said.

"It would be wise of Linger Longer to accept and embrace this amendment and move forward accordingly," Chapman said.

Chapman predicted that the amendment would easily pass through the upcoming floor and Senate votes to become law.

"My colleagues are all very excited about it," he said. "This amendment is the right thing to do."

03/05 - Attorney General OKs deal

Slugline Attorney General OKs deal
Date: March 05, 2008
Section(s): Local News

When the Trammell Crow development deal surfaced last year, state Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, had questions.

He was concerned about a possible $10 million tax abatement between the Jekyll Island Authority and the developers.

But what Chapman referred to as "abatement" turned out to be a mere rent agreement between the authority and the developers, the state Attorney General's Office said Tuesday.

Chapman had asked for the opinion of the Attorney General.

"It was erroneous of Sen. Chapman to call it an abatement," said Russ Willard, director of communications for the Attorney General's office.

"It was a rent agreement that is reflective of the base amount of rent. It's a standard rent plan."

- Anna Ferguson,

The Brunswick News

03/05 - Jekyll hotel construction set to begin

Date: March 05, 2008
Section(s): Local News
The Brunswick News

The building has been demolished and the blueprints have been submitted.

It's now a waiting game for Trammell Crow's proposed development on Jekyll Island.

"Everything is moving forward," said Eric Garvey, spokesman for the Jekyll Island Authority. "It's been a very normal, smooth process with the project."

Trammell Crow's new hotel, Canopy Bluff, will take the place of the Buccaneer, demolished at the end of 2007.

Groundbreaking on the new hotel is planned for April, Garvey said.

The only snag in the project came earlier this year, when original designs exceeded height restrictions of the Jekyll Island Authority. New designs have been created and will be submitted to the authority this week, said David Deshong, a representative of Global Accents and Trammell Crow.

"We're finalizing plans right now to submit new renderings of our design," Deshong said.

As it stands now, Canopy Bluff isn't much to look at. Mostly, it's a fenced-in field of fresh dirt stirred alongside downed tree limbs and leftover patches of landscaping.

The $120 million Canopy Bluff hotel will feature 301 rooms and 127 condominium rentals, plus a conference center, five swimming pools, a full-service restaurant and spa.

Affordability has been a top concern for most Jekyll Island redevelopment plans and was taken into consideration when planning on the new hotel began, Garvey said. Falling between a four-star and economy rate hotel, Canopy Bluff is slated to be one of the islands higher-end options.

"It's not set to be an economy hotel, but it also won't be exclusive," Garvey said.

Construction of Canopy Bluff is expected to take about 16 months, Garvey said.

03/01 - Legislative hurdles to Jekyll plan flattened

Date March 01, 2008
Section(s) Local News

The Brunswick News

A House bill that could have halted redevelopment plans for Jekyll Island has been dismissed for now by a committee in the lower chamber of the Georgia General Assembly.

Introduced by Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Columbus, House Bill 1289 faced a hearing in the State Properties and Institutions Committee Thursday and was promptly returned to sender when members said they had too many questions about the content and impact of the legislation.

The proposed legislation called for stricter beachfront building requirements. Were it to be enacted, it would greatly alter the $341 million revitalization plan proposed by the Jekyll Island Authority and Linger Longer Communities, said Eric Garvey, senior marketing director for the Jekyll Island Authority, which oversees the state-owned island.

The bill was the last of four measures introduced in the General Assembly that threatened to derail plans for Jekyll Island's revitalization that a legislative committee repelled Thursday. Three proposed by state Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, were struck down by a Senate committee.

The language in Buckner's legislation was strikingly similar to wording used in the three measures proposed by Chapman, who opposes the Linger Longer blueprints. All three measures were rejected by the Senate Economic Development Committee.

Buckner withdrew her measure, requesting that the House committee not vote on it. She said she wanted to rework the language.

The plan to revitalize the state park calls for new hotels, condominiums, a new convention center and town center.