political pandering

Jekyll Island MarshSometimes we don’t realize the beauty around us. Another Gwinnettian chimed in the other day, extolling the beauties of Jekyll Island when visiting it the first time, after living in Georgia for several years.

“It’s so beautiful and peaceful,” she said, ready to return.

We should not be surprised that many newcomers to Georgia do not know of the virtual undeveloped beauty of the Georgia coast. Unlike Hilton Head Island and much of Florida, Georgia’s beaches aren’t condo-ed away from the people. Easy beachfront access is a hallmark of the Georgia coast. (We should not be surprised that many locals do not drive the six hours to the Georgia beach. After all, many in the Gwinnett area haven’t visited or even know about nearby Lake Lanier!)

Now the State Attorney General, Sam Olens, has issued a ruling that on the face of it is ominous. Luckily, the ruling is not binding, and Mr. Olens feels that Jekyll Island and its development will be the subject of legislative interest next year. We might add that should the Olens’ ruling stand, it most likely will be temporary, with the eventual outcome settled by the Georgia courts.

What Mr. Olens ruled veers away from common sense. He ruled that Jekyll Island’s marshland should be considered as “land” when figuring the land area of the island. This is important, since a 1971 act to preserve and protect Jekyll Island 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 ironic aspect of the Olens’ pronouncement was that Jekyll could apparently raise the number of acres that would be permitted for development, while the land on which this premise was based couldn’t be built upon.

That’s not common sense.

Howls went up from many about the Olens ruling. Meanwhile, developers were smiling, anticipating future profits from even more dense development.

It was the one-half term governor, M.E. Thompson, who in 1947 had the good sense to purchase Jekyll Island for a mere $675,000 through condemnation from the eastern millionaires, who had used it as their private retreat. Thompson considered the purchase his greatest achievement as governor. Ever since then, just how, and where, and the number of acres to develop, has been under question.

Some say Jekyll Island is overbuilt now. In 1996, the island’s size was put at 4,226 acres, and counted 32 percent “developed.” But since, others say that the island is now 38 percent developed, now 136 acres above the legal building limit. Courts could decide the question if the Georgia General Assembly in the future can’t come up with an accurate island size. You can bet the lobbyists will be working overtime on both sides of this question in the next Legislature.

One of the questions that may come before the Legislature is just what is the definition of land on an island. Some say “mean high water,” which would allow for marshland to be considered land. Others maintain that “high water” is the key, since that’s where anyone with common sense would start any sort of building.

We liked one comment we saw on the Jekyll Island question. Commenting on the land definition as issued by Sam Olens, the Savannah Morning News said of it: “If you believe this, I’ve got some South Georgia swampland to sell you.” Shades of the Brooklyn Bridge!

Editor's note: This story originally published at the GwinnettForum.com. Image: Marsh near Jekyll Island by Evangelio Gonzalez via flickr and used under creative commons license.
Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack is a native Georgian and veteran newspaperman. He published the weekly Wayne County Press for 12 years; was for 13 years the vice president and general manager of Gwinnett Daily News, and for 13 years was associate publisher of the Gwinnett section of The Atlanta Journal and Constitution. He now publishes, in retirement, Web sites on Gwinnett County, http://www.gwinnettforum.com, and Georgia news, http://www.georgiaclips.com.