On October 18, 2010, the Jekyll Island Authority issued a press release stating that it had reached an agreement with Twentieth Century Fox (TCF) on locations, financial issues, confidentiality statements, and appropriate crediting for the use of the Park for shooting parts of the sequel to the movie “X-Men.” While it was stated that “a beach area” would be among the locations to be used, no details were given at that time as to how that area might be impacted by the construction and filming of the “X-Men” set.
In the absence of those details and because nothing was said about the project being significant enough to require a permit in accord with Georgia’s Shore Protections Act, IPJI mistakenly assumed that the filming of “X-Men” would be a low-impact affair and would result in little if any disruption to the dunes or the dune field on the TCF site. However, as the aerial photos at the bottom of this page show, the site, which is 4.5 acres in size, has, in fact, been dramatically altered by set construction.
While the TCF project is temporary, its impact is sizable and, therefore, should have required a formal permit. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR), however, decided to bypass the Shore Protection Committee and issue a Letter of Permission authorizing the project with the condition that TCF adopt a restoration plan that “will be intended to return the site to pre-existing or better pre-activity conditions” and submit the plan to the Department for review and approval.
Proper restoration of the site is certainly important, but whether that is accomplished or not, the fact remains that the DNR issued a permit variance that is not formally allowed by the Shore Protection Act. If Letters of Permission have been used in other instances – and apparently they have – this does not make it right to continue to use them in lieu of the public procedure required by law but rather means that an ad hoc, possibly illegal, practice has been going on for some time.
James Holland, former Altamaha Riverkeeper, had this to say about the DNR’s decision: “They do not have a permit for this, however, the DNR was kind enough to give them a 'Letter of Permission' to use and then restore the area. Seems to me that if they were going to do enough harm to this dune field to require restoration, it should have required an official permit from the State Shore Protection Committee…. There are many legal questions that I believe need to be answered regarding this ‘Letter of Permission’ sign off by anyone less than the Shore Protection Committee.”
David Kyler (Executive Director, Center for a Sustainable Coast) added that, “Operation of heavy equipment used to excavate the landscape, crossing the dune field with temporary roads built for the proposed uses, and imposing major burdens on the beach itself – evidently being allowed under the DNR-issued letter, with dubious assurances of restoration, much less enhancement – hardly amounts to an incidental use having negligible impacts.
Considering that an individual could be issued a citation and fined for driving a small car on the beach or pulling a handful of sea oats from the dunes, it is astounding that, with no public review whatsoever, DNR and JIA are allowing this activity to proceed.
Public review is essential. Without it, the referenced activities can be done recklessly, with little or no public accountability. Regardless of claimed economic benefits of this or any other project, protecting the coast under existing law is paramount to the public interest, especially at a barrier island state park like Jekyll Island.”
The Jekyll Island Authority’s October 18th press release said nothing about how the island’s beachfront would be impacted by the TCF project or about the Authority’s plans for restoration of the dune field affected. These omissions served to heighten the initial shock of seeing four acres of Jekyll’s dune field become a construction site and increase the worry over the potential impacts of the TCF project. In a November 2nd "Revitalization Update," however, the Authority made it clear that it intends to restore the dune field affected to a condition better than it was in prior to the film shoot.
But, no matter what the plans are for restoration, the key point is that the DNR should have followed Shore Protection Act permitting procedures—which require a formal hearing with an option for public review prior to ruling on any request for activity under the jurisdiction of the Shore Protection Act. The proper permitting procedure was followed for the filming of scenes from the Civil War movie “Glory” on Jekyll’s beachfront in the late 1980s; why wasn’t this so for “X-Men?” At the very least, the DNR needs to explain upfront how the practice of issuing Letters of Permission squares with the Shore Protection Act and why this practice was used in the case of “X-Men.”
To read an Op-Ed piece by David Kyler, Executive Director of the Center for a Sustainable Coast, click here.