HOW JEKYLL ISLAND CLASSIFIES MARSH LIKE THIS
WILL DETERMINE IF IT HAS ROOM TO GROW
Attorney general will decide if it’s land
The Brunswick News
April 14, 2013
By Nikki Wiley
(Click here, to read Letters to the Editor submitted following this article.)
As esoteric as the question may appear to be, the answer to whether a marsh should be classified as land on Jekyll Island will have far-reaching ramifications for future development of the island.
The lawyer assigned by the state attorney general’s office to the authority that runs the island state park wants the office in Atlanta to decide that question. The answer will go to the heart
of deciding if there are legal ramifications in recommendations by a citizens task force on a master plan for the island.
The issue arises because, under state law, only 35 percent of land on Jekyll Island can be developed. The remaining 65 percent must remain in a natural state.
Whether marsh should be considered legally to be land in calculating those percentages will be up to the attorney general’s office. The task force says marsh should not be considered to be land.
When measuring land for development under current guidelines, which classify marsh as land, the Jekyll Island Authority which operates the park estimates that it has about 55 acres to work with in future developments.
If marsh cannot be considered to be land, as the task force contends, then the authority has no land to work with and the island will be considered to have exceeded the development limit set by the state. It’s unclear if there are any legal ramifications for exceeding the limit.
The master plan, which was created in 1999 and last updated in 2006, provides guidelines for the future operation of the given the responsibility of making recommendations on what should make it into the final plan, which must be approved by the Jekyll Island Authority board.
One group had the job of deciding exactly what makes up Jekyll Island, what constitutes land and how to measure it. Named for the Georgia law requiring at least 65 percent of the state park’s land to remain undeveloped, the 65/35 Task Force spent months debating how to measure the mass of the island, with much of the discussion revolving around how marshlands should be counted.
If the group’s recommendations make it into the final plan and are approved by the authority board, the state park would have no room for future developments.
The potential change in the percentage comes after the 65/35 suggested using different scientific
methods for measuring the marsh side and ocean side of the island and discounting interior
marsh toward Jekyll’s land mass.
Changing the classifications of some areas of the island, such as golf course buffers and ponds,
from undeveloped to developed also contributed to pushing the island past the 35 percent mark.
“If the attorney general’s office looks at the full history of the state law limiting development and also understands that there are various state and federal laws that will tell you that marshland is not part of land area, then the recommendations should hold up,” said David Egan, a member of the 65/35 Task Force and a co-founder of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island.
Eric Garvey, chief communications officer for the authority, says he doesn’t expect the attorney
general’s involvement to delay the recommendations made by other citizens task forces were fairly routine and focused on topics such as land use, transportation and infrastructure, environmental planning, historic and cultural resources, sustainability and recreational planning.
The Jekyll Island Authority originally expected to have a master plan draft in hand at the end
of 2012, but the process is taking longer than expected.
“We’re excited about (the master plan),” Garvey said. “We made the commitment to have a great
amount of stakeholder and public input, and it’s taken a long time, but we’re glad to do that. I think it’s a worthwhile endeavor to go through that engagement.”
• Reporter Nikki Wiley writes about government, business and other local topics. Contact her at