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Development on Jekyll Island hinges on defining marshes





Spanish Moss hangs from trees around pristine parts of Jekyll Island if developers get their wish and marsh areas are counted as land, then more of the island will be opened for future use.



By Pam O’Dell


Capitol Reporter

The Jekyll Island Authority has asked the Attorney General’s office to weigh in on a task force’s recommendation that marsh not be considered in determining the island’s land base. The land measurement is significant because it determines, according to state law, the amount of development that can occur on the island. 


Hence, the determination on whether or not marsh is counted as land pits environmentalists and citizen activists against those who favor greater development on the island.  




The naming of the “65/35 Task Force” alludes to the 1971 law which limits development to 35 percent of the island’s land area. If the amount of total land space is increased, the amount of developable land is also increased. The land count is central to the development of the island’s “Master Plan,” a process which is intended to guide the authority and the public in balancing the recreational and environmental attributes of the island while ensuring that the park be economically self-sufficient and affordable.

According to Eric Garvey, spokesman for the authority:  “Because the 65/35 Task Force’s alternate method apparently conflicts with the Jekyll Island Authority’s enabling legislation, the  staff has requested a legal review by the Office of the Attorney General. “Pending advice from the Attorney General, no decisions regarding the task force recommendations have been made.” 

The task force membership is heavily weighted with state employees and authority staff members all appointed by the authority. According to Eric Garvey, JIA spokesman, David Egan, founder of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, was invited by the authority’s Executive Director, Jones Hooks, to serve on the task force based on his experience with the subject matter. 

The authority is now asking the Attorney General to review Egan’s role in the task force’s determinations and the fact that the non-profit he leads has retained the public interest environmental firm Green Law as legal counsel. 

In a letter to the Attorney General, Green Law attorney, Steven Caley, contends that Egan’s position on the task force is irrelevant unless a law suit is filed. The JIA staff believes it may be a conflict of interest.

Regardless of Egan’s participation, the task force would have had a majority for the new land count criteria. 

The task force contends that the amount of land that can be developed has already been exceeded (by 3 percent). If the marsh is counted as land, only 32 percent of the 35 percent available has been developed, leaving 166 acres available for what Garvey believes will be “recreational amenities.” 

Garvey notes that the island’s revitalization plan uses a very strict definition of “development” considering golf courses, ball parks, and walking trails to be “developed.” He contends that commercial amenities such as hotels and stores will be built according to the “existing footprint” and not sprawled out amidst untouched habitat and landscape. 

Not so contends Egan, who worries about the long-term impact of any decision that would increase the acreage subject to development. 

“What might Jekyll look like decades from now if hundreds of acres become eligible for development by having salt marsh miscounted as land? Well, it would most likely have to be within the maritime forest. Remember, at one time St. Simon’s Island was largely a beautiful maritime forest; now the island is packed with homes shaded by what’s left of that once spectacular natural feature. 

“While I doubt if the current JIA board has any plans for expansive development of Jekyll Island, boards change over time, and who knows what might one day be done with those hundreds of acres?”

Garvey concluded: “What we all agree on is the limitation of development on Jekyll Island as to protect beauty and unique character of the island. This island is a special place so, of course people are passionate, but, although we may not agree every step of the way, we’ll get there together.”

O’Dell provides news on state government through, The O’Dell Report in newspapers in North Georgia and her blog, She can be contacted at pamodellreport




Randolph Phillips
0 #1 Randolph Phillips 2013-05-17 12:01
As a Georgian, and member of the General House of Representatives who voted for the Marshland's Protection Act (it passed the House when Speaker George L. Smith II broke the tie in favor), I have been alarmed by the pro-development forces which seem to be in control of Jekyll Island these days.

I am not all that happy that the State Attorney General will weigh in on this issue. He is, after all, a former Democrat from New Jersey who became a Republican and won his present position with the support of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce--a pro-development liberal group with a lot of money and clout in state government.

I don't trust his motives nor his philosophy.
Diane Shearer
+1 #2 Diane Shearer 2013-05-28 08:35
This is one of the best articles on this controversy that I've seen. I don't trust the Attorney General's philosophy either, and anything that undermines the Marshland Protection Act will be bad for the entire coast. I would like to see the writer do a follow up on that historic piece of legislation.
Susan Murphy
0 #3 Susan Murphy 2013-05-28 09:03
It seems obvious, doesn't it, that we do not need the Attorney General weighng in on this; the facts speak for themselvses. But since he has been asked to render an opinion, let us hope he takes conscientious action and serves the will of the people whose support is overwhelming for maintaining Jekyll Island State Park as a natural environment with no more new developement.
0 #4 jekyllover 2013-05-28 09:09
It has long been acknowledged by environmentalis ts and most other residents of Georgia and the U.S. that marshes are not land areas but often serve as the birthplace for shrimp, blue crab and other essential life forms essential to our very existence on this planet. In the case of Jekyll Island State Park, we do not need more development but rather, more protection of the unique ecology of that barrier island. When initially purchased by the taxpayers of Georgia, Jekyll Island State Park was justified as a coastal environment to remain largely natural and always affordable for the average income Georgian. Further development on this barrier island erodes its natural environment as well as its affordability for the average-income Georgian. We need to preserve its open beachfronts not litter them with further concrete, imported plants, and buildings.
Dory Ingram
0 #5 Dory Ingram 2013-05-28 10:30
I have a problem understanding how the 65/35 Task Force's recommendation, which honors the definition of marsh vs land in the Coastal Marshlands Protection Act, conflicts with the enabling legislation of Jekyll Island, since that enabling legislation clearly distinguishes between Jekyll Island and the marshes that surround it. That said, I also have a problem understanding how David Egan has a conflict of interest in that his grassroots organization has retained Greenlaw as legal counsel, while the Jekyll Island Authority, which has several representatives on the same task force, also has legal counsel. Can somebody explain this to me?
Jekyll Advocate
+1 #6 Jekyll Advocate 2013-05-28 11:41
Like Rep. Phillips, I am concerned as to why the Jekyll Island Authority has asked the Attorney General to weigh in on the issue of whether tidal mash can be counted as part of Jekyll's land area for development purposes. Dry land and wet marsh are distinctly different physical features; one can be developed, the other cannot. By conflating land marsh with land, the JIA (with the AG's support?) would be able to get around the state law limiting development to 35% of Jekyll's LAND area. The Marshlands Protection Act defines what is marsh and what is land, and where the two meet. End of story, unless, of course, the JIA is motivated by something other than the law....
Brenda Constan
0 #7 Brenda Constan 2013-05-28 23:51
Allowing the JIA to redefine "marsh" as land would not only permit further commercial development on one of the most unique natural habitats on the southern coast but also set a terrible precedent for other marshlands. Let's not sully one of Georgia's treasures. Marsh is not land!

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