TRUTH AND CONSESQUENCES
Statements made by JIA staff members in the April 30th Brunswick News article “Jekyll Disputes What Is Land” that appears below are begging for a “fact check.” Read on for some stark truths….
ALLEGATION: Tidally-influenced marsh above mean high tide is the same as land, according to Georgia law.
FACT: Georgia Law, specifically the Coastal Marshlands Protection Act, defines tidal marsh and distinguishes it from land. Put simply, marsh and land are not the same thing. The law says so, as does common sense as well.
ALLEGATION: “Mean high water is the correct way to measure the start of the land,” says the JIA’s Eric. Garvey.
FACT: Mean high water does not mark the boundary between tidal marsh and land. The proof? The 1996 Jekyll Island Master Plan, which the 65/35 task force has been charged with reviewing, inexplicably used mean high water to determine where Jekyll’s land area started. That unfounded decision by the 1996 Master Plan team resulted in more than 360 acres of tidal marsh being miscounted as “land.” If Mr. Garvey really thinks those marsh acres are “land,” I suggest he try walking on it at high tide.
ALLEGATION: The JIA says that the 65/35 task force erred when concluding that tidal marsh above mean high tide should not be counted as part of Jekyll Island when applying the State law limiting development to 35% of Jekyll’s “land area.”
FACT: A JIA member of the task force, John Hunter, introduced and recommended a “JIA staff position” that, in effect, excluded the vast majority of tidal marsh above mean high water from the Jekyll land area count. That recommendation was eventually adopted by the task force but is now being attributed by the JIA to task force members who “ignored JIA staff guidance” on this issue. Why the JIA staff is now rejecting the position it advanced is anyone’s guess.
ALLEGATION: The focus of the 65/35 task force was supposed to be on defining the terms “developed” and “undeveloped,” as they apply to the 65/35 law. Measurement of Jekyll’s land mass “was not the issue that task force was created to consider,” says the JIA’s Eric Garvey.
FACT: Included in the 1996 Master Plan among the definitions of “undeveloped” areas is “tidally influenced marsh that lies above 4.3’ mean high water.” Having been charged with reviewing the ’96 Plan’s definitions, the task force was obligated to consider whether or not tidal marsh should be counted as part of Jekyll’s undeveloped land mass. If Mr. Garvey had taken the time to read the Master Plan that is now under official review, he might have realized the obvious connection between how marsh is defined and how to measure Jekyll’s land mass. So, while Mr. Garvey might believe that the base (the “land mass”) to which the 65/35 ratio is to be applied should be separated from any discussion of the “definitions” issue, the facts say otherwise.
ALLEGATION: The Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island State Park’s representative on the 65/35 task force has “an exclusive anti-development agenda.”
FACT: IPJI has consistently supported responsible redevelopment of Jekyll Island. IPJI did, however, oppose the JIA’s pet project, meaning the plan to bring high end and dense development to Jekyll’s main beachfront through a deal with the politically-connected developer Linger Longer Communities. Far from being “an exclusive anti-development agenda,” IPJI’s position on the Linger Longer mega-project was based on popular objection to a fatally flawed development plan, which eventually imploded under its own weight.
ALLEGATION: David Egan, who represents the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island on the 65/35 task force, should be removed from the task force because IPJI is “investigating the use of legal action to uphold the 65/35 law.”
FACT: “Investigating” the possibility of legal action to uphold state law is not grounds for purging Egan from the 65/35 task force nor does it constitute a “conflict of interest,” as the JIA has alleged in its letter to State Attorney General Sam Olens requesting that he review this matter. Why is it that the JIA and its staff on the Task Force can have legal representation from their in-house counsel and seek an opinion from the Attorney General, the highest legal officer in the State, (all at taxpayer expense) without having a conflict of interest, but a citizen's group such as IPJI who has legal counsel does have a conflict of interest?
CONCLUSIONS: The results of the above “fact check” of the JIA’s allegations prompt three troubling questions:
1. Why is JIA pushing for a definition of the island boundary that significantly expands its total area by including tidal marsh?
2. What might JIA do with the ~1700 acres of land that would be added to the island’s area by misclassifying some tidal marsh as “land”? 3. How might the protection of marshes under state law, including marsh buffers, be jeopardized by a legal ruling that allows Jekyll to classify marsh areas as “land” when they are above mean high water?
Jekyll disputes what is land
The Brunswick News
By NIKKI WILEY
The Jekyll Island Authority has told the state Attorney General's office that a citizen task force's recommendation that marshlands should not be included in the island's landmass is outside the bounds of state law.
The task force was appointed by the authority during its master plan update to make recommendations on how best to comply with a state law that mandates only 35 percent of the island be developed and 65 percent be left undeveloped.
In the course of its research, the 65/35 Task Force, named for the legislation limiting development, chose a new method of measuring the island that immediately puts Jekyll Island over its limit for development.
But the Jekyll Island Authority, which operates the island state park, says the new method is in conflict with an existing ruling, while some task force members contend that the authority is attempting to over-measure the amount of land on the island so there is more available to develop.
The authority has not made a final decision on what to include in its master plan and is awaiting a review by the state attorney general.
The authority says the island has 5,543 acres of land of which 32 percent is developed, leaving roughly 166 acres untouched. Task force members say by their measurements, the island has only 3,817 acres of land, and 38 percent is developed - 3 percent more than allowed by law.
"Despite guidance from JIA staff ... task force members chose to utilize methods that eliminated all marsh from island calculations (of land) and establish their own interpretation," wrote John Hunter, director of historic resources and authority liaison for the master plan, in an analysis sent to the attorney general.
Pierre Howard, president of the Georgia Conservancy, an advocacy group for protection of natural resources that had a member on the task force, put his opinion simply: "Marsh is not land."
"I think that it's very regrettable that someone now would seek to change the deal and make it appear that marsh is land," Howard said, pointing to a letter also submitted to the attorney general's office written by the author of the development-limiting legislation that says landmass above "high ground" should be considered in the ratio.
Both Howard and David Egan, founder of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island and a member of the task force, say they don't understand why the authority is questioning the recommendations of a group it created.
"They put the task force together. They chose us to be on it. They were part of the deliberations. They were in on it," Howard said, noting that authority staff members were present during the group's planning meetings.
But the authority is not just questioning the recommendations. It says Egan should not have a place in making them.
The Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island voted at its November meeting to retain legal counsel from Greenlaw, a Georgia environmental law firm. The meeting minutes say the group voted to "investigate using legal action to uphold the 65/35 law."
Eric Garvey, chief communications officer for Jekyll Island, says the group is threatening a lawsuit, a conflict of interest for Egan.
Egan maintains the law firm has only been retained as counsel and that the authority was aware of his opinions on land delineation before appointing him to its task force.
"Based on their activities," Garvey said, "it is clear to me that the Egans have an exclusive anti-development agenda and are only concerned with that agenda, even if it means manipulating the way the island is measured and throwing out all kinds of misinformation."
Still, if Egan's voice was taken out of the equation, a majority of task force members recommended measurements the Jekyll Island Authority disputes.
But Garvey says the landmass of the island was not the issue the task force was created to consider.
"The task force was to focus primarily on the definitions of developed and undeveloped," Garvey said. "The intention was that they would focus on what is unique to the Jekyll Island master plan."
Members did that by reclassifying man-made ponds, borrow pits, trails and dirt roads as developed. The authority says it doesn't have an issue with those classifications.
The measurement of the island was already established in previous master plans as being above the 3-foot elevation, Garvey said. Once the task force decided to turn to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources jurisdiction line under the Marsh Protection Act --which is above a 5-foot elevation -- for its definition of land, it was in danger of not being in compliance with a state law that says the mean of high water is the correct way to measure the start of land.
"They were told, 'Hey, look guys. It's already determined in law. If you want to discuss it, it's going to need to go before legal review," Garvey said.
Some task force members fear that tossing out the DNR jurisdictional line could set a precedent for overriding its authority in marshlands throughout the Georgia coast.
Jekyll is known for its natural beauty, Howard said, and should stay that way.
"Are we going to make a Coney Island out of it? And change it? And change the character of it?" he asked.
* Reporter Nikki Wiley writes about government, business and other local topics. Contact her at email@example.com, on Facebook or at 265-8320, ext. 321.