Note: The message below is being sent on behalf of three individuals who participated in the Jekyll Island Master Plan process as task force members:

Jennette Gayer, David Kyler, and Steve Willis.   Your comments or response are appreciated.

To Jekyll Island Master Plan Task Force Members:

We are sending this message in the interest of full disclosure on a matter of great significance related to the Jekyll Island Master Plan (MP).

As a member of one or more of the task forces, you, like the three of us, have invested time and expertise in a good-faith effort to produce a useful, complete analysis of various issues and related recommendations that will help improve Jekyll Island State Park. 

In our initial planning stages, nearly every task force identified the need to settle the debate about how much of the island can be developed.

This is why we were pleased to learn that the 65/35 task force, which includes representatives from the Jekyll Island Authority (JIA), had adopted, by majority vote, a report that recommended a well-researched calculation of the island’s size and the total development footprint.  In short, they found that development had exceeded the 35% limit and any future construction should occur within existing developed areas.

The 65/35 task force was given an opportunity to review Langford Holbrook’s final draft of the report and asked to share any suggested changes with the task force’s members. Following a month-long comment period, the final report was sent in late March to the members of the six Master Plan task forces.

Unfortunately, the JIA staff, rather than openly sharing their objections to the report’s land-area recommendation with the 65/35 task force, took covert steps that seem intent on undermining the report’s findings and setting the stage for more development on Jekyll Island.

Consider the following events and facts:

1. On March 28, 2013, MP facilitator, Langford Holbrook, sent the attached final recommendations of the 65/35 Task Force to the members of the six Master Plan task forces and the MP steering committee. Those recommendations were consistent with those presented by the JIA staff at the August 20, 2012 meeting of the 65/35 TF. [see first two items attached: 65-35 final2 and JIA staff recommendations - land area - aug.20 2012]

2. At the April 11, 2013 meeting of the Master Planning Steering Committee, JIA staff and in-house legal counsel informed the committee that the recommendations of the 65/35 TF had been sent to the State Attorney General’s office for legal review as a matter of routine procedure.

3. Neither the steering committee nor the members of the MP task forces were told that a previously unseen analysis, authored by JIA staff member and 65-35 TF-member John Hunter, had been included with the 65/35 report that was sent to the AG by JIA. This insert consisted of a two-page rebuttal of the TF’s recommendation regarding the calculation of Jekyll’s land area. [See pages 12-13 of the attached file [ “JIA addition to 65-35 report – sent to AG”].

4. Hunter’s analysis regarding the TF’s land area findings was not presented during the month-long comment period on the draft version of the 65/35 report. Instead, the JIA staff chose to insert its rejection of the TF’s land area recommendation after the final draft of the report had been sent to all TF members and before the report was sent to the AG’s office. It took an official Open Records request to obtain a copy of what the JIA actually filed with the AG, after the Authority refused to release the document to the public.

5. The JIA staff has since denied that it has taken any position on the 65/35 recommendations, yet, as shown by the “staff conclusions” on page 13 of the document sent to the AG’s office, the staff had, in fact, assumed a position and come up with a figure for Jekyll’s land area that is 1,300 acres greater than stated in the most recent Jekyll Island Master Plan [see attached “Thomas and Hutton 2008 Update”] and 1,700 greater than determined by the 65/35 TF.  This larger island area being advanced by JIA would result in a net increase of several hundred acres of development-eligible land on Jekyll.

6. The staff’s position and the larger figure for Jekyll’s land area have since been reinforced on the JIA’s website by Executive Director Jones Hooks -- In spite of this, the JIA board and staff continue to insist that they have not taken any position on the land area issue.

We are providing all of the above to TF members so all have the benefit of knowing what the JIA staff submitted to the AG and what they now assert, in contradiction to the majority of the 65-35 task force.

If the JIA disagreed with the TF’s findings, then they should have followed the proper procedure for expressing their complaint, as outlined in the “Task Force Overview” section on the Fanning Institute’s Master Plan website, which states:  “Task Forces will be expected to build consensus around recommendations or guidance provided to the Steering Committee; however if dissension exists, an opinion of the minority can be submitted for consideration by the Steering Committee.”

If the JIA already knew the outcome they wanted and were apparently intent on getting it regardless of an allegedly transparent planning process, that process now seems to have been little more than a ruse.  

In sum, it is beyond frustrating that the master planning process was covertly compromised by the JIA when they submitted their undisclosed opinion to the AG that contradicted pivotal recommendations of the 65-35 task force.

Thank you for your ongoing attention to the land-area issue and the impact it could have on Jekyll.

Submitted by:
Jennette Gayer, Environment Georgia – Sustainability Task Force, Atlanta
David Kyler, Center for a Sustainable Coast – Sustainability Task Force, St. Simons Island
Steve Willis, Sierra Club (Georgia Chapter) – Land Use, Transportation and Infrastructure Task Force, Savannah

The following statements by Task Force members are
in response to the above letter of protest.

June 6, 2013

From: Pierre Howard, President
Georgia Conservancy
65/35 Task Force and Steering Committee Member

To: All Interested Parties
Re: 65-35 Task Force Report

The Georgia Conservancy was asked by the Jekyll Island Authority to participate in a Task Force that was formed to assist the Authority with making some important basic decisions about the future of Jekyll Island. We accepted the invitation in good faith because we believed that the Authority had turned the page from its past efforts to grossly overdevelop the island after having been forbidden by the Georgia General Assembly from developing the fragile south end of the island. Our general counsel, Beth Blalock, was our representative at most meetings, although Will Wingate attended one meeting in her place. Additionally, I attended the Steering Committee meeting on April 11, 2013 at Jekyll Island at which the JIA staff announced that it was sending the final report of the 65-35 Task Force Report to the Attorney General for a routine review. There were smiles and handshakes all around since those of us who had participated on the Task Force were still convinced that the JIA was dealing with us in good faith.

They did insist in the days following the meeting of April 11, 2013 that they were not taking a position on the 65-35 Task Force report. Now, as a result of an Open Records request, we have learned that John Hunter of the JIA staff attached a memorandum to the referral letter from the JIA to the Attorney General that effectively undermines and  discredits the recommendations of the 65-35 Task Force as if they were somehow made by a subversive interest group. At all times during the Task Force process, the members attempted to work in good faith with the JIA staff. While it was obvious that the work of the Task Force would have to be approved by the JIA Board, it was also assumed that if the JIA staff made recommendations about important matters and those recommendations were adopted by the Task Force, the JIA staff would support them at the board level. Otherwise, why would all of us have expended so much time, effort and resources to be involved? Please refer to the memorandum of August 20, 2012 attached to the email below that recommends that the marsh boundary of the island be designated as the “DNR’s regulatory MHW measurement of 5.6 adjusted to 4.89 on the western shore to minimize the amount of marsh included.” That language was adopted by the Task Force. Why then, did the JIA staff abruptly change their mind? That is the 64 dollar question. It is patently obvious  that because the island is actually developed beyond the 35% statutory limit, and because the JIA wants to develop beyond that limit, they are continuing to count marsh as land in order to achieve their development goals.  The problem with their development goals is that they are not legal. The Task Force process has been shown to be a sham and a farce.

On behalf of the Georgia Conservancy and our board, I want to say that, after reading the John Hunter memo to the Attorney General, we feel deceived. We will fight with all of our energy to preserve Jekyll Island as the General Assembly intended when the 65-35 law was passed. It is regrettable that we have officials who are willing to twist and torture legislative intent in order to relieve temporary financial pressures. Once Jekyll Island is ruined by over-development, there is no turning back. It must not happen. It will not happen.
I wish to thank Jeanette Gayer, Dave Kyler and Steve Willis for laying out the true facts.

Pierre Howard, President
Georgia Conservancy
Atlanta, GA

June 6, 2013
From: Greg Lowery
Historic/Cultural Resources Task Force Member

Thanks for this report.  I was originally under the impression that the 65/35 Task Force, while probably disagreeing on some of the finer points, had reached a clear consensus on how to measure Jekyll's land.  I realize that Task Force recommendations are not binding; but the additional, contradictory notes sent to the AG cannot help but erode any confidence I had in the "public input" aspect of the Master Plan process.  I drove a cumulative 900 miles to attend meetings of the Historical and Cultural Task Force.  Was that just a waste of time and money?   I wish these differences could have been handled in a more transparent fashion.

Greg Lowery,
Rentz, GA


June 6, 2013
From: Brenda Constan
Recreational Planning Task Force Member

I find it reprehensible that the JIA would create a task force of highly educated and knowledgeable professionals, ask them to volunteer their time and expertise, and then ignore their recommendations.  How insulting!  The report that the task force presented to the JIA was obviously the culmination of meticulous research in order to come up with a fair and accurate method of determining the amount of developed and undeveloped land  on the island.

Perhaps the JIA's resorting to sneaky, underhanded, back-door measures to attempt to undermine the task force's recommendations is a sign of desperation.  Regardless, their shameless actions demonstrate that their only agenda is unrestrained development.
Brenda Constan

June 6, 2013
From Babs McDonald
Recreational Planning Task Force Member

I was on the Recreational Planning TF, but never really received any follow up information even though I asked for it. I even tried to send information to other Rec and Tourism task force members and never heard from them. The 65/35 debacle must be addressed in some way -- thank you for your email in that regard. My read on the situation is that one thing we must do, as a group and as citizens, is demand of the JIA Board that the current JIA management staff be replaced with professional state park/natural resource/outdoor recreation managers. It is painfully clear that the current JIA management staff under Jones Hooks (1) is not professionally trained in state park or natural resource/outdoor recreation management, (2) does not understand public land planning and management and the role of the public in that planning and management, and (3) is only interested in building a financial portfolio, not in natural resource protection and quality state park visitor experiences. By sending the 65/35 request to the AG and bypassing their own established process, the JIA management staff (and the UGA Vinson Institute of Government) are patently ignoring the public's rightful role in this process. Let me know what you need; and I will be thinking of my own next steps.
Many thanks,
Babs McDonald

June 6, 20112
Frank Mirasola
Sustainability Task Force

To All:

Thanks to Jeanette, Dave and Steve for having the will and courage to insist on setting the record straight.
The facts regarding the 65/35 Task Force report are well known to all now that they have been revealed.
I'll not add to the rhetoric and focus rather on the sense of betrayal and disappointment with the outcome
that has been thrust upon us. 

Having participated in the Master Plan process since 1996, I had an expectation that great accomplishments
would be reached with this group.  That is not to be. 

I agree with Pierre, we are now engaged in a battle not of our choosing, it is our task to muster all our strength throughout the state of Georgia and settle this dispute for all future generations.

Frank Mirasola
Jekyll Island


June 7, 2013
Eric Garvey
Jekyll Island Authority

First, I apologize to those on this list who did not wish to receive broadcast e-mails. As a courtesy, I have used the bcc function so your e-mail is not disclosed by me.

Despite claims to the contrary, the JIA has not taken a position on the 65/35 Task Force recommendations. The referenced memo was sent to the AG's office as background information. It does not represent an official position of the JIA. The memo speaks for itself in terms of laying out facts of the matter and Mr. Hunter's perspective on the task force work.  Those views were expressed openly as a part of the 65/35 Task Force sessions, and should not be a surprise to anyone involved in those sessions. John is happy to discuss his perspective should any of you wish to have a conversation with him.

The Office of the Attorney General has yet to respond to our inquiry and we understand it will be an official opinion due to the heightened interest in this issue.  We see that as positive in order to put the matter to rest.
In the meantime, the new master plan is moving forward using input from all the task forces in addition to the survey, focus group and stakeholder interview inputs.  This work shows a great deal of agreement about the future of Jekyll Island and is something that presents opportunities that can be built upon in the planning process.  Regarding 65/35, the JIA Board has directed that we examine land delineation that has specified acreages and consider moving away from percentages which will always be changing with the dynamic nature of a barrier island. Of course this will comply with the law and embrace the concept of limited development and protection of the natural environment and beauty of the island.

Remember, in terms of developed land nothing has changed on Jekyll Island since the 1970s. There has not been any additional commercial or residential development and none is planned.

Thank you,
Eric Garvey
Jekyll Island Authority

June 7, 2013
From James Holland
Environmental Planning Task Force Member

Mr. Garvey, do you and the JIA understand what the truth is???  All of you are an embarrassment to the citizens of Georgia and should be ashamed of yourselves.  

James Holland, User of the Jekyll Island facilities and a Georgia Marine veteran.
Brunswick, GA

June 10, 2013
From: Diane Shearer
Historic/Cultural Resources Task Force Member

To All Interested in the Issue: 
I agree with Pierre Howard: I thought the contentious distrust engendered by the Linger Longer debacle was finally behind us when the JIA hired the Vinson Institute to oversee and write a new Master Plan. I’m retired, care about Jekyll very much, and was happy to serve on a Task Force at my own expense. After I listened to the introductions at the first meeting last April I felt very positive about the diverse group that had been invited and looked forward to the work. But someone at that first plenary session was not as trusting as I and asked Langford Holbrook if the Task Forces’ meetings would just end up being "window dressing." He seemed offended, paused and replied, "It’s not window dressing."

By the time of the last meeting at the end of last summer, Mr. Holbrook was clearly frustrated, especially because of the difficulties of reaching consensus in the 65/35 Group. In my last Cultural/Historical session he filled in for our absent leader, and what I remember was his assertion that no matter how good the plan he submitted, what eventually ended up in the final version would be a "political decision."

Those may be some of the more honest words spoken or written on this topic and certainly relate to the JIA’s covert sabatoging of the Master Planning process. I appreciate the three participants who wrote trying to clarify the sequence of what has transpired. It has all become very muddy and confusing. But the one question that lingers in my mind, is why the JIA is so adamant that marsh be declared land. They have issued lots of soothing words through Mr. Garvey, but they haven’t really stated up front why they want those extra acres included. I thought the whole point of a new Master Plan was to bring in new scientific knowledge and best practices in historic and public land management, but Mr. Garvey most recently in the Georgia Times-Union asserts the "professional staff" just wants to use the same measurements that have been used since 1973.
Clearly, John Hunter’s piece as a not-meant-for-public-eyes insertion in the materials that went to the Attorney General was intended to convey the JIA’s point of view.   I also find the effort to distinguish the "JIA professional staff" from the JIA Board rather humorous.I understand the difference, but I don't for one second believe that Hunter didn't have approval to insert that document. Garvey even goes so far as to assert the staff didn’t want to bring something before the Authority if there was a question regarding its legality. I dare say the Authority's fingerprints are all over the way this is playing out.  I leave it to the lawyers to dig into the merits of the obscure Smith v. Georgia that’s mysteriously appeared, but I do find it interesting the JIA tries to avoid talking about the Coastal Marshland Protection Act, one of the most admired pieces of legislation Georgia has ever passed.
One phrase in Mr. Hunter’s piece I find especially galling is "Despite guidance from the JIA staff..." I don’t know that JIA people with degrees in history, business, landscape architecture, etc. are any more qualified to speak on these issues than the equally well educated people on the Task Force. I’m sorry to say, but the subtext of this to my ears is once again the disdain the JIA and people speaking on its behalf feel for anyone who puts the environment ahead of profit and development and dares raise issues they would rather not deal with.

Diane Shearer, retired educator
Tucker, GA
Member: The Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, Georgia Sierra Club, Georgia Conservancy, Atlanta Audubon, Georgia River Network, Friends of Georgia State Parks

June 11, 2013
From: Brandon Noel
Environmental Planning Task Force Member

To Task Force Members:

We all know the answer to the questions that have been raised, do we not? It was evident from the first task force meeting that we had. 

JIA was not willing to share their objectives/plan even though they asked us to help put together a master plan. JIA wants to develop and do everything they can to manipulate the 65/35 designation, if not eliminate this designation in hopes of using mirrors to develop in another way. I was optimistic this was not the case when asked to be a part of the task force.

While I was excited to be a part of the task force, I was very disappointed to see how it all transpired and where we are today.

Hopefully, the right people speak and are heard on the matter.

Diane asks a simple question of the JIA -  explain " why the JIA is so adamant that marsh be declared land." We (all stake holders, Georgians, visitors, Task Force volunteers) deserve an answer.  A straight forward question
demands a straight forward answer, no gobbledygook, no smoke and mirrors, just explain WHY?

Brandon Noel
Statesboro, GA

June 12, 2013
From: David Egan
Sustainability Task Force, 65/35 Task Force and Steering Committee Member

To: Jekyll Island Master Plan Task Force Members
I want to thank Jennette Gayer, David Kyler and Steve Willis for informing Master Plan task force members about the critique of the 65/35 task force’s work sent by the JIA staff to the Attorney General’s office. 

Like Jennette, David and Steve, I’m upset that the JIA misrepresented what it was actually sending to the AG and shielded from all non-JIA task force members and the public the staff’s condemnation of the land area findings of the 65/35 task force.  While the JIA had no obligation to accept the task force’s recommendations, the Authority is obliged to function in the open, with full transparency, if it chooses to amend or reject a task force report. In that regard, I suggest the JIA make public the four pages of yet-to be-disclosed information sent to the AG that the Authority is shielding from public review on the grounds of “attorney-client privilege.”

I do not know why the JIA chose to act covertly on a matter of such importance rather than publicly issue a dissenting view, as outlined in the official Master Plan procedure. Whatever the staff’s rationale for breaching the adopted protocol, I believe the JIA should explain why it publicly stated that “the report” was being sent to the AG as a matter of routine procedure when, in fact, a condemnation was tacked on to the report along with previously unrevealed staff “conclusions” regarding the measurement of Jekyll’s land area.
As for Eric Garvey’s reply to Jennette, David and Steve, I think his failure to address their stated concerns, in effect, confirms the accuracy of and justification for what they’ve reported to task force members. Moreover, I do not see how Mr. Garvey can speak with authority about 65/35 task force sessions he did not attend. I attended all five of the task force’s meetings, taped each, and know what was said.  If Mr. Garvey had been there and wanted to remain true to the facts, he wouldn’t be claiming that the JIA staff’s criticism of the 65/35 report “should not be a surprise to anyone who attended those sessions.”

It’s a shame that the JIA staff ignored the procedure established for registering disagreement with the majority report of a Master Plan task force and chose to take a route that reflects poorly on the Authority’s commitment to the planning process we thought was governing our work on the Master Plan. The JIA’s handling of the 65/35 issue may well diminish public trust in the Authority and thus produce consequences far outweighing any advantages the JIA hoped to gain by trying to maximize Jekyll’s size when applying the 65/35 law.

David Egan
Jekyll Island

June 13, 2013
From: Jennette Gayer, David Kyler, Steve Willis
To Jekyll Island Master Plan Task Force Members:

The facts from our previous message speak for themselves and have not been reconciled in JIA’s favor by Mr. Garvey’s incomplete reply to our email message to task-force members on “full disclosure” of 65-35 issues, which we sent on June 6th.

Above all, JIA cannot claim they’ve taken no position on the 65-35 issue when their own staff-authored “addendum,” secretly submitted to the Attorney General, concludes with a list of items that contradict task- force recommendations.  In their covert submittal, these items are described as JIA staff “conclusions.” Furthermore, positions posted on the JIA’s official website also contradict task-force recommendations on the 65-35 issue, indicating that a position has been taken that circumvented prescribed master-planning procedures. Surely this is ample evidence that JIA is not acting in good faith on this critical issue.

Regardless of how JIA may be receiving and accommodating recommendations of the other task forces, the boundary issue and its implications for determining as much as 600 acres of land eligible for development are pivotal to the island’s future, and these are not being ethically addressed by the JIA.

Jennette Gayer, Environment Georgia, Atlanta GA
Sustainability Task Force Member

David Kyler, Center for a Sustainable Coast, St. Simons, GA
Sustainability Task Force Member

Steve Willis, Sierra Club (Coastal Georgia Chapter), Savannah
Transportation and Infrastructure Task Force Member

June 13, 2013
From Al Tate
Environmental Planning Task Force Member

To Jekyll Island Master Plan Task Force and Other Persons with a Stake or Interest in the Future of Jekyll Island:

The Jekyll Island Board and JI Authority have made a huge miscalculation in their recent actions resulting from their dissatisfaction with the 65/35 Task Force Recommendations. This is indeed a sad turn of events for the future of Jekyll Island. The Master Plan Task Force was perceived by Jekyll Island Stakeholders as the first  real opportunity in a very long time to have meaningful public input into the future of Jekyll Island. Many members of the Task Force, like myself, traveled a long distance and stayed several weekends at our own expense to participate in this opportunity to participate in the planning process.  Task Force Members were volunteers carefully selected for their expertise and experience. It was, indeed, a blue ribbon panel of citizens extremely well qualified to address the issues of Jekyll Island's Future. We all put considerable time, thought, and effort into the project and felt that our participation could result in righting some of the wrongs and shady dealings of the past, and perhaps restore a measure of trust toward the governing body of JI. Perhaps there would be honest recognition that Jekyll Island is a Public Trust, owned by the State of Georgia, for the benefit of all Georgia Citizens.

It now appears that the Jekyll Island Board/Authority has lost all faith in the process that they developed to create a new Master Plan and wish to disown it in favor of hanging on to a few more acres of upland that can be developed in the future.  This egregious Breach of Trust by JIA after they established the Master Plan Task Force to include the 65/35 Committee continues a long history of manipulation or outright disregard of public input to the process of managing Jekyll Island. 

I wish to raise the following issues:

First, the 65/35 land use requirement in the park established by the law was intended to prevent loss of the natural environment essential to wildlife and natural communities that make the barrier islands such a treasured asset and one that could be enjoyed by ALL Georgia citizens.  This natural environment, though always mentioned as a key reason why visitors come to Jekyll, is currently stressed by existing development on the island. Even so, only recently has there been some interest by JIA in trying to ascertain the health of the natural assets of JI.  There are real indicators that these natural resources are in trouble.  However, instead of showing concern for the natural environment JIA focus and financial assets have always been on the developed portion of the island and continues to view development as the only real solution to JI financial problems.  By contriving ways to expand the land area of Jekyll Island so that acreage for development can be increased, public confidence in JIA has been seriously compromised. That effort has been going on for over 40 years. However, by declaring the 1971 law that uses the phrase "land above mean high water" as a legal justification for creating land from marsh does not add acreage to JI. Anyone can walk out toward the marsh and clearly see the boundary between land and marsh. Saying that that boundary is really located somewhere out in the marsh where water covers the marsh half the time at high tide (as measured and averaged over the past 18 years by the US Coast Guard) is just nonsensical from any reasonable point of view. It only makes sense when you understand that the purpose for this contrivance is to get around the 65/35 legal requirement and permit increased development acreage.

The Smith vs State of Georgia (1981) issue mentioned by JIA concerned some 26 acres of beach property on Saint Simons Island (not the marsh side of the island) and-- if it is relevant to the issue on Jekyll in any way-- highlights the difficulties with measuring mean high water; a determination much more difficult than just observing where the land ends and marsh begins. The phrase "land above mean high water" certainly does not make marsh into land, nor does a court case about the shifting sand of Saint Simon"s beach provide guidance in locating land boundaries on the marsh side of Jekyll Island.

Second, if the JI Board/Authority would thoughtfully consider the recommendations of the 65/35 Task Force and recognize that they were not made by some irrational, anti-development  environmentalists, they could see that the future for Jekyll Island does not depend on how many acres are left for development.  JIA should continue to improve and redevelop the existing development acreage so that visitors can come and have a nice place to stay. JIA should adequately fund the process of evaluating the health of Jekyll's natural communities and find creative ways enhance visitor experiences with Jekyll's natural communities, especially identifying and marketing opportunities in the off season so that visits will increase during those times when the hotel rooms need to be filled. However, JIA will be unable to do this if their Board continues to show disregard and puts no effort into protecting and displaying JI's natural assets.

Using JIA Staff time and public resources, including the Georgia Attorney General's Office, to fight the results of JIA's own selected and highly qualified Task Force is counterproductive waste. Worse, it destroys public confidence and makes enemies of the people, even including those recruited to help them, that these public entities are paid to serve.

Al Tate,
Fernbank Science Center (retired)