Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island

This past month, IPJI asked four questions related to the Jekyll Island redevelopment issue to all of the candidates who are running for Governor of Georgia. The candidates’ answers to these questions may have  bearing on the future of Jekyll Island, as Georgia’s next governor will have an opportunity to appoint a new Jekyll Island Authority board and to steer Jekyll’s renovation in a citizen-responsive direction.  

Below are the four questions asked by IPJI and replies received from four candidates. As we receive responses from other gubernatorial candidates, they will be added to those that appear below.  


Gubernatorial Candidates

1) Currently, a number of Authority boards in Georgia are required by law to have members with qualifications related to the duties they must perform. This is not the case with the Jekyll Island Authority board, however.  If you were to be elected as Georgia’s next governor, would you be willing to support legislation that would require the majority of JIA board appointees to have credentials in subject areas relevant to the tasks they might be called upon to perform, including, but not limited to, such areas as public land planning and development, outdoor recreation, hospitality and tourism, public sector economics, and coastal ecology?

2) One of the main goals of IPJI is to keep Jekyll Island’s remaining open beachfront unobstructed and directly accessible to the general public. Would you, as governor, be willing to encourage the Jekyll Island Authority board to refrain from commercializing beachfront land that is currently in its natural state or is home to a public amenity?
As you answer this question, please bear in mind two facts: 
  • An open beach policy need not conflict with the ongoing reconstruction of Jekyll’s aging hotels, convention center and retail shops, which will take place on land that has already been developed
  • Jekyll Island is Georgia’s only oceanfront state park and, as such, public demand for access to the island’s main beach will increase dramatically over the next two decades in response to a projected population increase of 46 percent statewide and 55   percent in Georgia’s ten coastal counties [data source: Office of Planning and Budget, March, 2010]. 

3) The 1971 act mandating that not more than 35 percent of Jekyll Island can be developed is one of the most important pieces of legislation in the state park’s history. The so-called 65/35 rule cannot be upheld, however, without a clear definition of what constitutes “developed” and “undeveloped” land. At present, the definitions of these terms subscribed to by the JIA are, in some cases, at odds with best practices in land use classification.

As governor, would you be willing to help uphold the 65/35 law by asking your JIA board appointees to align the Authority’s definitions of developed and undeveloped land with national standards for land use classification, meaning those followed by such organizations as the American Planning Association, the Georgia Planning Association, and the National Resources Inventory? 

4) Georgia law mandates that the Jekyll Island Authority make “the island park’s facilities available to people of average income.” Many people believe that Jekyll’s long-standing tradition of affordability is one of the state park’s most important assets; others feel that Jekyll’s lodgings and amenities need to be more upscale if the island is to compete with other coastal vacation destinations.  If you were in charge of revamping Jekyll Island’s lodgings and amenities, what would be your priorities?

Jeff Chapman (R)

Question #1 - Yes, I would. If the Authority board members lack the qualifications to perform their tasks, then what purpose do they have? Jekyll Island is one of Georgia’s most precious natural resources. We must have first-rate stewardship of that resource if it is to remain a destination of choice for the citizens of Georgia and for others who appreciate what the island has to offer.  As Governor, I would absolutely ensure that the members of the JIA are properly equipped to perform their primary purpose. I would also be interested to discover why the credentials requirement for JIA board appointees was exempted in the first place.

Question #2 - Yes, we must remember the purpose of a state park is for the general public to have access to that land, whether it be for recreation, to enjoy nature, or spend a day at the beach. I am in no form or fashion opposed to the renovation or reconstruction of existing commercial properties, however to fundamentally change the purpose of the island is simply wrong. I am dedicated to maintaining the existing open beachfront and access for the general public.

Question #3 - Yes, I would. I also have concerns that 65/35 rule has already been violated, and I will fully investigate that and, if necessary, take action to rectify the situation.

Question #4 - My priority would be to protect the access for the common Georgian. The idea of “competing with other destinations” is disingenuous to a large degree. Jekyll Island is a state park, and as such is fundamentally different in purpose. There can certainly be more upscale development, but that should be an alternative and not in direct conflict with other renovation, nor should it be a new primary direction. I believe that the draw of Jekyll is the natural beauty and the accessibility, and I think altering that is doing the island and the state a great disservice.

Eric Johnson (R)

Question #1 - I would support.  However, there is also value in Boards having members who are simply consumers of the services they are providing. 

Question #2 - I do support and have supported limiting commercializing beachfront land that is currently in its natural state.  I supported the legislation that prohibited improvements to the south side of the island.  I am firmly committed to keeping Jekyll Island open and accessible to the public, but to do that we must renovate Jekyll’s run down hotels and public centers.  If we cannot renovate these parts of the island, then people will not want to visit, and I firmly believe Jekyll must remain a natural resource that is accessible for all Georgians.

Question #3 - In 2007, as President Pro Tem of the Senate, I had the opportunity to change the 65/35 rule.  Rightfully so, I and the rest of the legislature declined to change this rule.  If there are clarifications needed to definitions and standards, I am willing to explore those.

Question #4 - I served as an ex-officio member of the Jekyll Island Authority and have been involved in the discussions and plans on how to move Jekyll Island forward.   I want Jekyll Island to stay accessible, environmentally protected, and affordable.  But I don’t want it to continue to deteriorate.  I support allowing cautious environmentally-sensitive redevelopment of the island using market forces.  I support proposals to create new low and moderate priced rental options as well as higher priced hotels.  I believe that all Georgians can be accommodated, regardless of their income, and all Georgians can continue to enjoy everything Jekyll has to offer. 

Dubose Porter (D)

Question #1 – I supported HB 1361, which was offered up this legislative session but never received a hearing. This bill outlined a comprehensive list of appropriate board members, such as marine biologist; biologist; botanist; ecologist; environmentalist; conservation manager; recreation manager; community recreational affairs manager; hospitality operations manager; tourism expert; business representative; Georgia educator; historian; public land use planner/developer; and resident from Chatham, Bryan, Liberty, McIntosh, Glynn, or Camden counties. In addition, these board members should be devoid of any conflict of interest with the JIA. They should not knowingly have any interest, direct or indirect, in any contract the authority is or is about to become a party to.

Question #2 - I have fought for years to maintain the open space on the island along Beachview Drive. It is one of the rare areas left on the eastern seaboard where one can truly "drive to the beach." Many of the working families of Georgia, who are the true owners of Jekyll Island, enjoy the privilege of driving their families to the beach. For families with small children it makes the sea easier to reach. And it is a very special treat to be able to see the relatively untouched dunes and native sea oats as they have always been. I do support the upgrading of the existing facilities. I realize this is a harsh environment that is rough on the buildings. Many of the older hotels have been in operation for 40 years or more and need to be replaced. However, I believe that replacement should be built on the existing footprint. I still have the Straw Hat awarded to me by your organization for the work I've done to protect the integrity of that last stretch of beach.

Question #3 - I was a co-sponsor of HB 1325, which would have provided in Georgia law the definitions of "developed" and "undeveloped," according to national land use standards. In recent years there have been attempts to create a new category of "disturbed," and we also sought to define that term in Georgia Law. We need very clear guidelines as we continue to maintain this precious natural resource.

Question #4 - Jekyll is a state park -- owned by the citizens of Georgia. It is clearly outlined in current Georgia law that the facilities on the island should be affordable for the working families of Georgia to enjoy. In an effort to ensure this, I was involved with a group of legislators who surveyed the current state parks for the usual and customary rates and offered suggested rates for the new lodging being built on the island. We were somewhat successful in redirecting the JIA away from the extremely high-end accommodations. However, this is a continuing battle, and I will remain vigilant in keeping the people's island affordable.

David Poythress (D)

Question #1 - Yes.  Equally important, I will appoint members to the Jekyll Island Authority whose personal integrity and commitment to the island and the people of Georgia is beyond question.

Question #2  - Yes.  And furthermore, an open beach policy is more compatible with the statutory policy that Jekyll Island shall be “available to people of average income” and with the long term ecological health of the island.

Question #3 - I will direct them to so align their definitions.  In the Poythress Administration, the Jekyll Island Authority will uphold the letter, spirit, and intent of the 65/35 law.

Question #4 - In my judgment and experience, quality and affordability are not mutually exclusive.  The point of the “average income” policy in Georgia law is that Jekyll is not intended to compete in the luxury resort market.  Clearly, Jekyll Island must be redeveloped, and some of the older existing properties are beyond rehabilitation.  Going forward, the policy of my Administration will be to strike a sensible balance between quality and affordability while keeping in mind the long range ecological health of the island