Savannah Morning News
Jekyll Island: Selling swampland
Posted: May 29, 2013 - 9:47pm | Updated: May 30, 2013 - 12:53am
QUESTION: CAN Georgia’s salt marsh ever be considered dry land?
ANSWER: Only if you’re a fiddler crab scuttling around in the spartina grass. But only at low tide.
Otherwise, there’s no way.
Yet incredibly, the public board that operates the state-owned Jekyll Island has asked Georgia Attorney Sam Olens for his opinion on whether the wide swath of marsh on the backside of Jekyll can be counted as dry land for future development purposes, as it would open up the island for new construction.
Talk about wasting Mr. Olens’ time. It was unclear if he choked on his morning coffee and laughed out loud when this coastal-area group asked the Cobb County resident for his thoughts about labeling tideland as dry.
It’s a new spin on an old joke about gullibility: If you believe this, I’ve got some South Georgia swampland to sell you.
If this issue wasn’t so important, this question would be completely ridiculous. Thus it’s only half-ridiculous.
A state law passed in 1971 to preserve and protect Jekyll limited the development of hotels, golf courses and other amenities to just 35 percent of the island’s land area above mean high tide. The rest must remain undisturbed — a good thing, as it allows other Georgians and visitors a rare, accessible look of unspoiled beaches not walled off from public view.
But for some unexplained reason, state park officials for decades wrongly included hundreds of acres of salt marsh in their calculation of Jekyll’s total land mass. That’s what a task force assigned to make recommendations about Jekyll’s future recently discovered.
Consequently, after rightly subtracting the marsh before doing the math, and correctly recommending that golf course ponds, dirt roads and bike paths previously classified as undeveloped land also be considered developed, this group found that Jekyll is slightly overdeveloped at 38 percent.
That’s roughly 136 acres over the legal limit.
No one is suggesting that the Jekyll Island Authority, which is charged with operating the island and appeared shocked by this revelation, should tear down existing buildings or plow under a few holes on one of the golf courses to get legal.
That would be just as ridiculous as relabeling salt marsh.
However, the authority had been under the assumption that 108 acres remained open to new construction, using the old, incorrect measurement. So it’s asking Mr. Olens to literally pick a number, which will impact Jekyll’s maximum footprint for development.
Fortunately, you don’t need a law degree — or a high school diploma, for that matter — to figure this out. All that’s needed is common sense and a little knowledge about Georgia’s tides and salt marshes.
It goes like this: Marsh isn’t dry land. Period. Exclamation point.
But if someone is ignorant enough to offer cash money for something that’s occasionally under water, take it and run.