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Jekyll Island should remain park for the people
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Editor, Georgia's jewel is still on the minds of many state legislators this session. Several bills, including HB 1289 that I am co-sponsoring in the House, have been introduced. They are designed to protect Jekyll Island's natural environment from effects of overdevelopment and to insure that Jekyll remains affordable for average Georgians, not just the wealthy.
In 1947, the Georgia General Assembly purchased the island and designated it Jekyll Island State Park. They stated that 65 percent must remain in its natural state and 35 percent could be developed. It was intended that it remain available to Georgians of average income.
In recent years, Jekyll has lost many of the conventions which were once held there, although the number of visitors remains almost the same. Many of the hotels and motels have not been kept up. The Jekyll Island Authority Board, appointed by the governor, has hired a development company, Linger Longer Communities, to plan for developing and updating condos, motels and shopping areas. Certainly this needs to be done, but with caution.
Last year, I supported HB 214 which is now law. It protects the south end of the island. The 4-H Center, the soccer fields, and the St. Andrews picnic area surrounded with dense vegetation are located here. The bill also set up a legislative oversite committee, appointed by the speaker and the lieutenant governor, to monitor renovation and development plans proposed by the Jekyll Island Authority Board. I attended a recent board meeting here at the Capitol where Linger Longer staff discussed plans for development.
It appears that the major area of development will be beachside up and down the strip where the convention center is currently located along with public parking areas and beach access for those not staying in motels. Now, a person can drive down Beachview Drive and enjoy a broad view of beach and ocean without building obstructions. This is rare anywhere along the nation's coastline today. New plans do away with Beachview Drive and route roads further inland to allow development in this area near the beach.
Plans are to relocate a new convention center further north. The current convention center site and public parking areas will be replaced with a mixed community of hotels, condos, cottages and shops.
The beaches in this area are the best on the island. All day, even at high tide, there is plenty of sand for sunbathers, swimmers and sea shell hunters. At night, this beach is the favorite spot of the loggerhead turtles that come ashore to lay their eggs. During nesting season, hundreds of tourists roam the beach eagerly anticipating a turtle sighting. Many Georgians are concerned that the island may become overdeveloped with a negative impact on the plants and animals, especially the sea turtles.
Another concern is affordability. Lodging charges could become more expensive to the point that average Georgia families would no longer be able to afford a stay at their own state park.
The Initiative to Protect Jekyll lsand State Park has a Web site to inform the public. The site allows citizens to view the development plans and see other ways they can help protect the "peoples park."
Linger Longer has not yet finalized development plans. On their Web site, citizens may view the plan and offer suggestions for changes.
Also, Sen. Jeff Chapman's web site allows citizens to endorse his resolution calling for the preservation of direct public access to Jekyll's main beach. Development along a California beach prevented public access until the court ruled last year in a case pending for 20 years.
Sen. Chapman has two bills, SB 426 and 427, designed to promote responsible revitalization and prevent over-commercialization. A third, SB 428 clarifies current law related to average income and lowest reasonable rates in an effort to retain affordability. The 2008 Legislative Session is half finished, but these bills have not been heard in the Senate Economic Development Committee, chaired by Sen. Chip Pearson.
HB 1289 authored by Rep. Debbie Buckner will be heard in the State Institutions and Property Committee this Thursday at 4 p.m. in room 415 of the Legislative Office Building. No vote will be taken. This is a hearing on the bill. The public can attend and sign up to speak on the bill. The bill addresses affordability, building standards and restrictions and water conservation, using gray water recycling for landscapes.
I urge each of you to be informed, vocal and supportive of Jekyll as revitalization and development continues. Yes, revitalization is needed but should not encroach on the natural areas and scenic beauty of Jekyll, resulting in another Hilton Head or St. Simmons. Our grandchildren and generations to come should be able to vacation at this unique island that belongs to them - Jekyll Island State Park.

By Rep. Barbara Massey Reece
House District 13
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