Erosion concerns rising on Jekyll
The Brunswick News
Nikki Wiley
April 22, 2012

David Egan remembers his favorite vacation spot on Jekyll Island in the 1990s.

When he and his wife, Mindy, co-founders of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, began visiting the state park island before moving there, they rented a house on the north end of the island.

"It was so nice to just be able to walk to the beach," Egan said.

Since then, the beach has moved inland and crossovers have been built for beach access.

Erosion on the north end of the island, including along Driftwood Beach, concerns Egan. "This beach is undergoing massive changes," he said.

A strategy employed 48 years ago to prevent erosion has only made matters worse, Egan said. A revetment composed of so-called Johnson Rocks was put into place at the order of President Lyndon Johnson after Hurricane Dora hit the Golden Isles in 1964.

The rocks - like those on St. Simons Island - have only exacerbated the problem, reflecting wave energy. The continuing erosion poses a concern for island visitors and property owners.

Managers of Villas by the Sea, an oceanside resort on the north end, hired a private firm two years ago to study the effects of erosion along the of beach at the resort's property.

The study in 2010 by Olsen Associates of Jacksonville concluded that the eroded condition of the beach will not correct itself. It noted that although beachfront properties are not in imminent danger and a remedy is not critical, a plan should be initiated soon.

One solution it proposed is a large-scale beach nourishment project on a 3.7-mile stretch of shoreline or a strategic relocation.

Beach nourishment would involve taking sand from one area and placing it in another. Strategic relocation would involve rebuilding infrastructure inland, away from the shore.

The plan was presented to the Jekyll Island Authority, which operates the island, but so far that's as far as it's gone. No action has been taken on the recommendation by the authority or by Villas by the Sea.

Ben Carswell, conservation manager for the authority, isn't ready to rule out any plan to lessen erosion, but he says there would be environmental and economic costs to consider if beach nourishment was ever proposed.

Erosion and accretion are natural processes that are common on barrier islands, Carswell said.

"Planning for the way the island moves, which is what all barrier islands do, is something we need to be on top of," Carswell said.

There is little that can be done to prevent erosion in the long-term and what can be done is expensive, said David Kyler, director of the Center for a Sustainable Coast.

"Most attempts to try to engineer solutions to slow it down or stop it only make matters worse," Kyler said.

The Jekyll Island Authority will revisit its master plan, a six-year-old document that guides the management of the island. During the update, task forces will be formed to discuss relevant issues to the island, including environmental planning and sustainability.

Carswell says he expects erosion to be among the topics of concern. "I would be surprised if erosion didn't come up," he said.