Jekyll Island hires consultant for conservation plan
A firm from Florida will help plan for environmental protections.

The Georgia Times-Union

March 27, 2010
By Carole Hawkins

Jekyll Island has hired an Orlando-based company to help develop an action plan by January for managing the park's natural resources.

AECOM will function as a consultant to Jekyll Island's conservation committee, which was formed in October to finish the park's long-awaited conservation plan.

AECOM is a worldwide planning and engineering firm, but the Jekyll team will work with a division that is devoted to environmental sustainability and remediation, Jekyll spokesman Eric Garvey said.

The Jekyll Island Authority and AECOM will also have to agree on how much the company will be paid for its work, the authority said.

Terry Norton, director of Jekyll's Sea Turtle Center and head of the conservation committee, said AECOM made a good impression.

"Their expertise fits in. The final product [they proposed] meets our goals for educating the public to understand what we are trying to protect on Jekyll Island," Norton said. "I'm excited about it, and I'm a conservationist."

Environmentalists have criticized Jekyll Island's governing authority for not drafting a plan to protect natural resources before bidding out hotels and beach village redevelopment projects. An early draft of the conservation plan had been held up in legal review for two years as construction plans moved forward.

Renewed commitment

Last fall, authority Executive Director Jones Hooks recommitted to the conservation plan and formed a 12-member committee to develop it. Just over half of the members are from the Department of Natural Resources, the Georgia Conservancy and the Nature Conservancy. The rest come from economic development organizations and Jekyll Island Authority staff.

Planned beach construction has over time shrunk from a large condo village to a smaller hotel, shopping and convention center complex in the footprint of existing development. That means less environmental impact than was originally feared, said Norton.

The final conservation plan won't just be about what developers can build, but about how Jekyll will maintain the island for nature-based tourism.

"Our goal is to have a diverse group of species here," Norton said. "We'll address how conservation interfaces with revitalization, but also how to manage the island as a place for people to come and see a barrier island. I'm not opposed to bringing the whole thing together."

Steve Newell, a retired biologist and Jekyll Island resident, has been following the conservation debate for five years. He said he is encouraged now that Norton is in charge of the conservation committee, but will watch closely to see how the plan unfolds.

He'll look especially for language that protects critical nesting habitat for threatened and endangered species, such as loggerhead sea turtles. He also hopes to see a permanent conservation easement established for the 65 percent of Jekyll that by law cannot be developed.

"My concern is that development could impact parts of the ecosystem eventually," Newell said. "But I am encouraged this is moving forward. It's a lot better than having it sit in a drawer somewhere."

The authority has pledged a transparent process that will include public information meetings.