Order to quit clearing overgrowth comes too late for Jekyll
The Brunswick News
February 8, 2013

The Jekyll Island Authority went too far in a permitted selective clearing of overgrowth along the Downing Musgrove Causeway, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

The problem came from landscapers cutting jurisdictional vegetation to the ground level in violation of the Coastal Marshland Protection Act. The authority had permission to remove non-jurisdictional plants, primarily wax myrtle.

Officials with the Department of Natural Resources asked the authority to discontinue its clearing, but the request was made too late. The work had already been completed.

It's an easy mistake, said Josh Nobles, compliance and enforcement coordinator with the Department of Natural Resources, as some vegetation looks similar.

"They now know where the marsh upland interface is and have agreed to conduct no further cutting," Nobles said.

"The jurisdiction will be better understood by all parties."

Root systems are still intact and the plants will regrow. "The resolution of the unauthorized activity is to allow these areas to naturally revegetate and cease any further alteration of the jurisdictional area," Nobles wrote in a notification to the authority that operates the state park. The request that the work be discontinued follows complaints by former Altamaha Riverkeeper James Holland.

He claims vegetation was "clear cut" for at least one mile along the causeway making the marshland more susceptible to pollutants from the roadway and compromising water quality.

"They did this claiming they wanted to create vistas for people riding along on the causeway, like tourists and what have you,"

Holland said. The project is included in the island's conservation plan, but Holland alleges it goes well beyond regular maintenance.

"They have illegally cut trees and removed them for the salt marsh," Holland said. Eric Garvey, chief communications officer for the authority, said the mistake was unintentional and due to an unclear line of jurisdiction.

"The assertion that the JIA willfully violated the Coastal Marshland Protection Act is complete nonsense. The extent of the inadvertent cutting is relatively minor and the vegetation will regenerate stronger," Garvey said.

"The impact pales when compared to the tons of trash and litter JIA work crews also were able to remove from the adjacent marshland during this same project."

To Holland, it's an issue of a government authority being environmentally irresponsible.

"They advertise Jekyll Island as an environmental heaven. 'Come see us,'" Holland said. "Yet when you get right down to where the rubber meets the road, they're destroying the environment that they say 'come see us about.' To me, that's phony. That's two-faced."

Garvey said the authority's stewardship of Georgia's Jewel is not something that's taken lightly.

"Despite accusations to the contrary, the JIA is committed to responsible stewardship of the natural environment and appreciates its supportive and cooperative relationship with the DNR and Glynn County," Garvey said.

He said it's the authority's desire to enhance and protect the environment for the public's enjoyment.

Holland filed two other formal complaints with the Department of Natural Resources regarding unrelated projects on Jekyll, including a permitted bike path project that includes the construction of a bridge over marshland and the redesign of the intersection at the base of the Ben Fortson Parkway. No formal determination on the complaints has been made

* Reporter Nikki Wiley writes about government, business and other local topics. Contact her at nwiley@thebrunswicknews.com, on Facebook or at 265-8320, ext. 321.