Protecting the People's Beach

Marietta Daily Journal

Commentary by Don McKee
Published on: 01/07/08

The issue of a proposed huge oceanfront development on state-owned Jekyll Island State Park should be debated and, if necessary, settled by the General Assembly.

That's why Sen. Jeff Chapman (R-Brunswick) needs support for a resolution calling on state officials to preserve existing public oceanfront parking areas and beach access points.

It is one of several efforts aimed at stopping a proposed $440 million development by Linger Longer Communities, a 62-acre "village" including three hotels, nearly 300 condos and 160 time-share units, shops, restaurants and a new convention center.

At stake, as Sen. Chapman points out in a statement sent to the media, is the future of "the people's island," the one coastal island that has for generations been accessible and affordable for the common people by writ of the General Assembly.

In the law creating the Jekyll Island Authority to maintain and operate the island park, the legislature expressly declared its intent "to ensure the preservation of these resources for the enjoyment of all Georgians now and for future generations to come."

Chapman and the overwhelming majority of other Georgians who have expressed their sentiments want Jekyll to be preserved as a place where they, their families and other visitors can visit and vacation without having to pay resort prices or be denied beach access. They want the Jekyll Island Authority to honor the commitment made by the General Assembly more than half-century ago when Georgia acquired the island.

The island authority has awarded the lead in the development to Linger Longer, but Sen. Chapman and other concerned citizens fear lingering longer won't be affordable to many or most of the people who have enjoyed Jekyll if the development is allowed.

Chapman said the LL proposal for Jekyll "would severely limit direct public access to its main beach."
Specifically, he said, the plan with its "oceanfront village to be built along nearly the entire span of the park's most popular beach calls for the elimination of four beachside public parking lots that service Jekyll's day visitors and those staying at off-beach locations on the island."

Although the developer says only 1 percent of the island's total acreage would be covered by the town center, the tract happens to run along the beach "which is most accessible to the general public at high tide," Chapman said.

The senator cites surveys showing 90 percent or more of respondents, including thousands of Georgians, want the main beach open and free of condos and such.

Chapman is seeking public support for a resolution declaring that "present oceanfront parking areas and beach access points shall be maintained for the benefit and convenience of the general public."

"The people's Resolution," Chapman says, can be brought to the floor of the General Assembly to encourage the state's elected officials "to take action to safeguard Jekyll Island State Park's founding principle of accessibility to all the people of Georgia in perpetuity."