Jekyll Project Dodges Public Review
By David Kyler
December 24, 2010
In late October, the Georgia Department of Natural
Resources approved a temporary but significant
disruption of a 4.5-acre site along the ocean shore at
Jekyll Island State Park without issuing a permit, as required
by the Shore Protection Act.
Because no permit was issued, no public hearing was held,
nor was there a chance to comment on the action before it
was approved and started.
The approved activities involve the use of heavy equipment in the dune field and beach to move tons of sand and dramatically alter the area in creating a site location in filming scenes in a new 20th Century Fox movie, part of the "X-Men" series.
If you want to see it for yourself, take a look at pictures posted at savejekyllisland.org.
DNR officials say they have often used a letter of permission instead of a permit to approve projects that are temporary - involving no permanent structures or site changes within the shore protection area. However, the origins and extent of this practice remain obscure, and there is no mention of it in the Shore Protection Act.
In 1989 when DNR reviewed a request for the filming of the movie "Glory" on Jekyll, not only was a shore permit required, but significant protective measures were enforced. As a result, one of the best beach access boardwalks over the dunes in the state was built at the expense of the movie company. Damage to the shore area was reduced during production, then restored.
As photos of the Fox project area show, operation of heavy equipment to excavate the landscape, crossing the dune field with temporary roads built for the proposed uses, and imposing significant burdens on the beach are being allowed.
Considering that an individual could be issued a citation and fined for driving a small car on the beach or pulling a handful of sea oats from the dunes, it is astounding that, with no public review, DNR is allowing this activity to proceed and the state's Jekyll Island Authority is so willing to accommodate it.
Reportedly, the authority intends to use sand brought in for the movie to enhance the dune field. Unlike "Glory," however, DNR is not requiring 20th Century Fox to be responsible for enhancing the area, only to restore it.
Completing the enhancement will be the obligation of the authority, which will have to apply for a Shore Protection Permit even though Fox didn't. It is unclear how much, if any, of the enhancement will be paid for by Fox. Although Fox is required to post a performance bond, to date the amount of that bond remains undisclosed.
A range of concerns are raised, which could have been resolved if DNR had held a public hearing, which is required in the permitting process but not in issuing a letter of permission:
-- Why wasn't a legislatively required Shore Protection Permit process used?
-- Why isn't Fox responsible for enhancement to compensate for disrupting the area?
-- Who is paying for the restoration and enhancement? Will state bond funds be tapped?
-- How well will those expenditures be documented?
-- Can DNR reliably ensure restoration and/or enhancement over the long term?
In their apparent attempt to accommodate filmmakers, DNR unwisely circumvented public review and, arguably, shifted private costs onto the public. Moreover, it is doubtful that using a letter of permission is legal or even prudent when a temporary use causes major disruption.
Public review is essential. Without it, the referenced activities can be done recklessly, with little or no public accountability. Regardless of claimed economic benefits, protecting the coast under law is paramount, especially at a barrier island state park.
David Kyler is executive director of the Center for a Sustainable Coast, based on St. Simons Island.
To view pictures of the set and read more on this issue, click here. To read what ComicBookMovie.com has to say, click here.