Important Update: Legislation Amended in Jekyll's Favor

March 7, 2013 update: The amended version of HB 402, which IPJI worked hard to secure, was passed this morning by the Georgia House of Representatives. The bill, which received a unanimous vote of approval, goes to the Senate now, where we are concerned about an effort to reinstate the part of the bill dealing with the jurisdictional area of the Shore Protection Act. Stay tuned for details....

Thanks in large part to hundreds of citizens who took the time to contact members of the Georgia House of Representatives’ Environmental Quality Sub-Committee, and to action by a broad range of conservation organizations, including GreenLaw, Georgia Conservancy, Sierra Club, Center for a Sustainable Coast, the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, the section of House BiIl 402 that would have amended the jurisdictional area of the Shore Protection Act and exposed  a large section of Jekyll’s beachfront to commercial development has been dropped from the bill as of February 28th. 

Special thanks should be extended to former Senator, now Representative, Jeff Chapman (R)-Brunswick, who, if you remember the Linger Longer days, fought valiantly to keep Jekyll Island's beaches free from commercial development and open to the public as intended when Jekyll Island became a state park 65 years ago. Chapman introduced a substitute bill that helped produce the changes that were eventually made by the committee.

The bill also now requires public notification 15 days prior to a *Letter of Permission being issued by the DNR for any activity within the jurisdictional area of the Shore Protection and Coastal Marshlands Protection Acts. *(According to HB 402, "'Letter of permission' means written authorization from the department to conduct a proposed activity in an area subject to the jurisdiction of this part, provided such activity is either within the physical perimeter of an existing serviceable project or involves the construction and removal of a project or other temporary activity that concludes within six months, inclusive of the time needed to return all affected areas to a condition approximate to, or better than, that which existed prior to the commencement of such activity.")

The bill will be voted on in the Natural Resources Committee on Monday, and from there move on to the House floor for a vote by mid-week. We think it will pass the House easily but are worried about what might happen to it when it gets to the Senate. After we get further advice from folks at the Capitol who know the political dynamics of the Senate, we’ll reassess the situation and then let IPJI’s members know if more action is needed.

We hear so often that you can’t fight city hall, but we’ve learned that with enough people, persistence, and public pressure, we can win key battles in the struggle to preserve and protect Jekyll Island.

Below are two press articles about HB 402

Bill would open coast to filming, but some want more study
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
By Aaron Gould Sheinin
February 22, 2013

A coastal lawmaker wants to make it easier for filmmakers to use Georgia’s shoreline, but a fellow lowcountry representative urges caution.

Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, the chairman of the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee, has introduced House Bill 402, which would allow the Department of Natural Resources to issue temporary permits for filming on the beach if there will be no environmental impact.

The current permitting process takes up to six months, Stephens said, which limits projects in places such as Tybee Island or Jekyll Island.

“It’s an absolute prohibition for filmmakers,” Stephens said.

The department has asked for the bill to add flexibility. The movie and television industry has become a $3 billion concern in Georgia after lawmakers adopted a series of tax breaks to lure the entertainment sector.

The bill also would make the coastal setback lines uniform. Current law restricts development to where the first vegetation grows, Stephens said. His bill would establish a 100-foot setback.

But Rep. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, a vocal advocate for protecting the state’s coast, said any proposed change to laws that protect the shoreline must be considered carefully.

“What should happen here, this is clearly one of those things where we should have a study committee and look at what’s being proposed,” Chapman said. “That needs to be given close scrutiny and make sure we’re basing it on facts and good knowledge.”

David Egan, co-director of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, said the bill would result in “a net loss of shore protection.” (should say, "for Jekyll Island State Park")

“In an era of sea level rise, it simply does not make sense to reduce the jurisdictional area of the (Shore Protection Act) and thus allow for the possibility of new development within 100 feet.” (should end, "of the dune line.")

Bill would streamline beachside filming
Savannah Morning News/Morris News Service
February 21, 2013

ATLANTA — When Hollywood produces remakes of “Gidget,” “Where the Boys Are” and “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini,” the state of Georgia will be ready for its close-up if the General Assembly passes legislation introduced Wednesday that streamlines procedures for beachside filming.

That’s the selling point from the author of House Bill 402, Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah.

“The main reason is to give filmmakers and others who want to temporarily use, for the purpose of non-disturbing — they’d like to put down some tracks that they put these cameras on,” he said. “They can ask for a temporary permit that lasts for a very short time that isn’t disturbing at all.”

Savannah was used as the backdrop for Miley Cyrus’ film “The Last Song” that was shot on the beach at Tybee Island in 2010, one of the early productions here that has led to a $3 billion industry. Filmmakers have been lured to Georgia since passage of a package of tax breaks that Stephens supported as chairman of the House Economic Development & Tourism Committee.

The Department of Natural Resources asked for HB 402. It allows the department’s commissioner to simply issue a letter for temporary use rather than the six-month process required for a permanent permit.

“Like any statute, every so often you have to go back in and update it and make it relevant and maybe make some improvements along the way,” said Lauren Curry, spokeswoman for the department.

The bill maintains safeguards for assuring the filmmakers don’t harm the environment because the work would be done by licensed marine contractors who are required to be bonded, according to Neill Herring, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club.

“The problem with it, I have not been able to identify an appeal process,” he said, either if the filmmakers don’t get all they wanted in the temporary permit or if members of the public object to the filming.

The bill also removes what Stephens describes as “gotchas” in how the Shore Protection Act works. Currently, shoreline that is protected is determined to be as far inland as the first “vegetation.”

He said that opens the door to abuse because someone could own property that’s well inland but only has a single tree as the first vegetation, allowing the loss of that tree to suddenly expand the protected area.

Stephens’ bill limits the protected shoreline to 100 feet above the ordinary high-water mark.