Jekyll Project Dodges Public Review
By David Kyler
5:49 p.m. Thursday, December 23, 2010
In late October, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources approved a temporary but significant disruption of a 4.5 acre site along the ocean shore at Jekyll Island State Park without issuing a permit, as required by the state Shore Protection Act.
Because there was no permit issued by DNR, no public hearing was held, nor was there any chance for the public to review or comment on the action before it was approved and started.
The approved activities involve the use of heavy equipment in the dune field and beach to move tons of sand and dramatically alter the area in creating a site location in filming scenes in a new 20th Century Fox movie, part of the X-Men series.
If you want to see it for yourself, take a look at pictures posted at savejekyllisland.org.
DNR officials say they have often used a letter of permission instead of a permit to approve temporary projects involving no permanent structures within the shore protection area.
However, the origins and extent of this practice remain obscure, and it's not mentioned in the Shore Protection Act.
In 1989, when DNR reviewed a request for the filming of the movie "Glory" on Jekyll, not only was a shore permit required, but significant protective measures were enforced. Accordingly, the movie company built one of the best beach access boardwalks in the state, damage to the shore area was reduced during production, and dunes were restored at their expense.
As photos of the Fox project area clearly show, operation of heavy equipment used to excavate the landscape, crossing the dune field with temporary roads and imposing significant burdens on the beach are being allowed under the DNR-issued letter.
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 is allowing this activity to proceed and Jekyll Island Authority is so willing to accommodate it.
Reportedly, Jekyll Island Authority intends to use sand brought in for the movie to enhance the dune field, which had been extensively altered when Jekyll became a state park over 55 years ago. Unlike the arrangement in making "Glory," however, DNR is not requiring 20th Century Fox to be responsible for enhancing the area, only to restore it.
The enhancement project will be the obligation of Jekyll Island Authority, which will have to apply for a Shore Protection Permit even though Fox didn't. It is unclear how much, if any, of the enhancement will be paid for by Fox.
Although Fox is required to post a performance bond under their agreement with DNR, the amount of that bond remains undisclosed.
Many concerns could have been resolved if DNR had held a public hearing - required in the permitting process - but not when issuing a letter of permission. Among these are:
In their apparent attempt to accommodate the filmmakers, DNR has unwisely circumvented public review of this project and, arguably, shifted private costs onto the public.
- Why wasn't the legislatively required Shore Protection Permit process used?
- Why isn't Fox responsible for enhancement to compensate for disrupting the area?
- Who is paying for restoration and enhancement? Will state bond funds be tapped?
- How well will those expenditures be documented?
- Can DNR reliably ensure restoration and/or enhancement over the long term?
- Who is responsible for public hazards that may be created in surrounding areas?
Moreover, it is doubtful that using a letter of permission in the shore area is legal or even prudent when a temporary use causes major disruption.
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.
David Kyler is executive director of the Center for a Sustainable Coast.
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