Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island

State House, District 179

Alex Atwood won the Republican primary for Georgia House District 179, which includes Jekyll Island. Audrey Steward won the Democratic primary. Below are the two candidate's responses to four questions dealing with Jekyll’s future that the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island asked several weeks ago.

Candidate Atwood also took the time to arrange a meeting with IPJI’s co-directors, at which he described his work with Senator Jeff Chapman on Jekyll’s behalf and his vision for the state park’s future.

IPJI is providing this information as a public service to citizens who reside within District 179.

1) Currently, a number of Authority boards in Georgia are required by law to have members with qualifications related to the duties they perform. This is not the case with the Jekyll Island Authority board, however.  If you were to be elected to the Georgia General Assembly, would you be willing to support legislation that would require 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 a sate legislator, 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 important 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. 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 a General Assembly member, would you be willing to help uphold the 65/35 law by encouraging the JIA board to align the Authority’s definition of developed/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 needs to be “upscaled,” replete with high end condos and hotels, if it 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?

Alex Atwood (R)

I am indeed honored to be given the opportunity to respond to the members of The Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island (IPJI).  I support your fine organization and its initiative of preserving the unique character, natural resources and wildlife habitats of Georgia’s only barrier island state park.

As a candidate for the Georgia House of Representatives, House District 179, I wish to clearly state my positions on the Jekyll Island redevelopment issue, which has been a subject of local and statewide interest over the past four years. Jekyll Island is a solitary jewel that deserves protection.  I would also like to outline my background as you consider each candidate for State Representative.

I have been actively involved in our community for over 20 years. I am the son of a career Navy Chief who served in two wars as a field medic.  I grew up on military bases until my father moved us to Georgia where I attended high school and college.  Jekyll Island was a favorite vacation spot during my youth and I have many fond memories of family time spent on the beaches and bike trails of this wonderful island. 

I graduated from Georgia State University and went on to earn a Master of Arts Degree in International Relations and a Juris Doctorate. I spent the next years of my life serving in both local and federal law enforcement. At the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, I successfully led all legal training for literally thousands of law enforcement officers and agents. Later I served as the Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel for a 700-employee Georgia-based security company providing security for federal government installations and the Superbowl.

I also served for 34 years in the United States Marine Corps Reserve in both ground and aviation positions. I  initially enlisted as a private. In 1982, as a Captain, I was selected by the Commandant of the Marine Corps in a national competition as the Marine Reserve Outstanding Junior Officer of the Year. I retired at the rank of full Colonel. I was called back to active duty in support of Desert Storm and the War on Terror. I have also served as a Magistrate Judge in our courts.

I am a member of the Chamber of Commerce, President of the Glynn County Bar Association, member of the Military Officers Association of American and the Navy League. In addition to being an active member of Christ Church on Saint Simons, I have served on the board to Safe Harbor, which provides shelter and resources to battered women and their children. I also served on a United States Attorneys Committee for the Southern District of Georgia, as an Adjunct Professor at the International Law Enforcement Academy in Budapest, Hungary, and as a member of the Legal Advisors Section to the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

I am the proud father of three children, Melonie, James and Cameron, and have been happily married to Cynthia Atwood for 22 years.  We reside on St. Simons Island.

Question #1 - Currently, a number of Authority boards in Georgia are required by law to have members with qualifications related to the duties they perform.  This is not the case with the Jekyll Island Authority.  I would be willing to support legislation that would require JIA board appointees to have credentials or experience in subject areas relevant to issues that the JIA board members must deal with.

Question #2 - Although I endorse the 65/35 development formula and am not opposed to reasonable development allowing Jekyll Island to be able to support itself, I desire, as much as possible, to maintain the beautiful landscape of this natural treasure. One of the main goals of your organization is to keep Jekyll Island's open beachfront unobstructed and directly accessible to the general public. In keeping with this goal, if elected, I would encourage the Jekyll Island Authority to carefully consider any proposed beachfront land that is currently in its natural state or is home to a pubic amenity before proceeding.  This is especially critical considering the increase in coastal population projected over the next several decades.

Question #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 history of Jekyll Island.  However, as an attorney and judge, I fully understand that "the devil is often found in the details."  There must be clear, rational, and understandable definitions of what constitutes "developed" and "undeveloped" land.  To that end, I would encourage the JIA board to more fully develop, with specificity, its definition of developed/undeveloped  land.  In that regard, I would urge the JIA  to consider land use models employed by other states that have been successful in preserving similar properties.

Question #4 - As previously stated, as a young man of average means, I often traveled to enjoy family times in the beautiful and quiet atmosphere of Jekyll Island.  I support the original enabling legislation for the majority of the development proposed for Jekyll, i.e. "making the park's facilities available to people of average income."  This is important, particularly in these economically challenging times.  Therefore, I desire a reasonable mix of amenities and lodgings so that all Georgians can enjoy Jekyll Island.

Thank you for allowing me to respond.  If anyone desires to discuss my views on the issues addressed in the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island survey, or on any issue of concern, please feel free to contact me.


Alex Atwood
Candidate for State Representative
House District 179
1515 Newcastle Street
Brunswick, Georgia 31520
(912) 265-5515

Audrey Stewart (D)

Question #1 - Board members should bring a wide variety of skills, but not necessarily skills that would overlap specific areas that the professionals are hired for. It would seem that a good board member should have broad skills in being a board member and not micromanaging what others are doing. Let the board members serve the public and bring other resources to the board such as influence and contacts.  For these reasons I would not support that specific legislation, unless I would be otherwise persuaded as necessary.

Question #2 - Absolutely yes.  Coming over the IntraCoastal bridge I would hope to see ocean.  It is one of our great pleasures to come to Jekyll beaches and park near the beach, park and watch a night launch from Cape Canaveral. Parking near the beach is a great thing for families with lots of stuff and little children and for those less able.

Question #3 - What JI now has in place seems sensible, with undeveloped land being really undeveloped and almost wilderness.  I do not know how the other best practices of land use define these terms but couldn’t JIA continue to be at odds with other definitions?

Question #4 - Some folks like the “low-retail” nature of Jekyll Island.

State Senate, District 3

The winners of the State Senate, District primary are William Ligon, Republican and Griffin Lotston, Democrat.

William Ligon (R)

1. Answer: YES, but I would also like to ensure that Georgians who enjoy the Island are also included as representatives from the general public.

2. Answer: YES. It is my understanding that the current plan for development will meet the criteria of the open beach policy.

3. Answer: I am definitely in support of upholding the 65/35 formula. On the other part of the question, however, I cannot be definitive without studying these standards. Certainly, we need objective standards by which we classify developed or undeveloped land. If these organizations already have the proper definitions that the State of Georgia could adopt, it would be wise to use their expertise.

4. Answer: I think that Jekyll Island has room for all levels of accommodations, including upscale hotels and lower priced hotels for average income earners. I would be in favor of expanding campground locations if there is enough demand. I’d like to consider more hiking trails, biking trails, and horse riding trails. I’d prefer not to see more condos anywhere near the beach, but some interior units may be acceptable in order to accommodate large families or groups.

Griffin Lotson (D)

Yes, I am willing to support legislation that would require JIA board appointees to have credentials in subject areas relevant to the tasks they might be called upon to perform, I have worked with commissioner Chris Clark of the Georgia Department of Natural Resource/Ex-Officio of the Jekyll Island Authority board (JIA). My work as a Consultant Specialist with the commissioner was that I was a specialist in the area of development and strategic planning for the revitalization and planning sessions on Sapelo Island for Sapelo Island Cultural and Revitalization Society Inc. (SICARS). I also was children and selected by the white house under President George W. Bush administration to assist as a consultant on economic development and community programs. As you can see by my examples, I’m a firm believer in having experienced people when needed. I believe in the  60/40 Board membership principle: 60% of those Board members should be experts or at least have some experience to help the project be successful and the other 40% board members should be from citizens or businesses in the community were the project is being designed  and with this 40% board member may have expertise or not but must be from the community were they live and work were project is being designed.