Jekyll Island going back to work on conservation plan

The Times-Union
Carole Hawkins
September 14, 2009

JEKYLL ISLAND - After being stuck for nearly two years in legal review, Jekyll Island's governing authority is changing directions on drawing up a conservation plan for the barrier island's natural assets.

Jekyll Executive Director Jones Hooks said Monday he wants to get the planning process moving again.

"Sixty-five percent of the island is to remain in a natural state, so management of that asset is important," said Hooks. "The conservation plan would be designed to do just that, and I feel it's time to move it forward."

The Jekyll Island Authority has been brokering construction deals with private developers for two years to rebuild aging hotels and vacation amenities and reverse a 10-year decline in park visitors. But the board has long been criticized for not first developing a policy to safeguard plants, animals and habitat against construction.

There are 22 types of plants, turtles, fish, birds and whales on or near Jekyll Island listed as protected under state and federal laws, a September 2007 draft of the conservation plan reported.

After developing initial drafts, the conservation plan was sent to the Georgia attorney general in December 2007, where it has been under legal review ever since.

On Monday Hooks suggested a new approach.

Authority staff will seek guidance from the State Attorney General's Office as to how to craft a policy. A team of other stakeholders, including the members of the Department of Natural Resources, the Georgia Conservancy, the Nature Conservancy and others, will update the plan developed two years ago. Then, staff would hire a consultant to come up with an appropriate management plan.

Hooks said the project got bogged down because the earlier draft contained pages of reference material on Jekyll's ecosystem, but no action plan for how to manage it.

Mindy Egan, co-director of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, had dogged the authority for 18 months to get back to work on its conservation plan. A ticker tape on the organization's Web site has been tracking how many days it's been since the authority last moved forward on the policy. It will stop at 671 days.

On Monday she thanked the authority for reviving the initiative, but also took a swipe over past inaction.

"This means the authority is going beyond just saying words like, 'We take our conservation mission seriously.' Now you're finally taking action," she said.

Despite the delay, both Egan and Hooks agreed it isn't too late for a conservation plan to make a difference.

"Today with redevelopment, we're still in the design phase. It's not too far out of sync with what we're already doing," Hooks said.

Live oaks on the northern end of Jekyll Island show the effects of rough weather and many have collapsed into the ocean. By law, 65 percent of the island must remain undeveloped, but there is no conservation management plan in place.
Photo by Terry Dickson/The Times Union