Jekyll Island can be revitalized without damaging the beauty

As Georgia's 2008 legislative session continues, you are likely to hear more about efforts to revitalize Jekyll Island, "Georgia's Jewel." Most Georgians want quality facilities as well as convenient beach access and a plan that respects Jekyll's unique environmental and cultural resources.

On the other hand, a small number of people want to maintain the status quo at Jekyll. Unfortunately, they have misrepresented the facts about the proposal and the Jekyll Island Authority's efforts to attract more visitors and revenue for sustaining the island and preserving its resources.

Their agendas, in some cases, appear to include discouraging more visitors, eliminating competition for rental income and political gain. The truth about the proposal is in the facts, and the facts follow.

The revitalization is designed to bring more Georgians back to Jekyll, where visitation has declined more than 47 percent since 1990, due in part to aging facilities and infrastructure. Many of those visitors have historically been from the Gwinnett area, one of the strongest contributors of island visitors in the metro area.

Vacationers and conventioneers don't return to Jekyll because they find better facilities elsewhere. Jekyll's existing hotels are decades old. Three former hotels are now vacant lots. Acres of asphalt give Jekyll a blighted look - like an old shopping center waiting for crowds that will never come.

Georgia law requires Jekyll Island to be economically self-sustaining. As visitation declines, so does revenue. In September, the Jekyll Island Authority board unanimously selected Linger Longer Communities of Greensboro as its partner to help revitalize the island.

On just 1 percent of Jekyll's total acreage, Linger Longer proposes a beach village that will provide a sustainable economic engine for the rest of the island. Over the first 15 years, the village will return to the Jekyll Island Authority an estimated $115 million in revenues.

Instead of looking for any handouts, Linger Longer proposes paying the Jekyll Island Authority $8 million over the first four years to assist with the transition and investing another $350 million in private funds in the project.

Rather than utilize this area exclusively for development, Linger Longer considered how to establish a viable commercial hub for the island while enhancing the available greenspace in the area. The result is a net increase in the island's greenspace, with nearly 24 acres of new parks and natural areas. In some cases, developed areas are being repurposed as greenspace and wetlands.

One of the plan's opponents, a Georgia state senator, is calling the people of Georgia to adopt his resolution to "preserve public access" to the beach at Jekyll Island. He claims that the proposed plan "threatens to severely diminish direct access to virtually all of the park's main public beach." To be kind, this claim is completely off the mark.

Under the proposed plan, every public access point will continue to exist and the beach will be as open as ever to all visitors. In addition, changing facilities and restrooms will be upgraded to further accommodate everyone, particularly day visitors. It is also important to note that of the nine miles of Jekyll beaches, the beach village site will border only about 4,000 feet, less than 8 percent of the total beachfront area.

His resolution claims that accessibility requires maintaining nearly five acres of 1960s-era asphalt parking lots that abut the beach and sand dunes. Stormwater runoff from these lots can cause erosion and pollute the waterways.

We propose replacing these unsightly and environmentally unfriendly lots with more than 2,000 parking spaces on porous surfaces bordered by trees. These porous surfaces will ensure that nearly 100 percent of rainwater is captured and reused in an appropriate way that protects the natural environment. More than 800 of these spaces will be within a three-minute minute walk of the beach.

The essence of the plan is to enhance access to Jekyll while adhering to environmentally sensitive design and construction. Linger Longer Communities proposes one of the first Earthcraft Coastal Communities on the east coast. This designation requires adherence to a rigorous scoring system, created by the Southface Energy Institute, that awards points for water management, landscape and habitat preservation, green building standards and provisions for pedestrians and cyclists.

Given the above, we offer Georgians an alternative resolution: "Be it resolved, in view of the aging infrastructure and of declining visitation to Jekyll Island, that just 1 percent of the island's acreage, including land adjacent to less than 8 percent of the island's total beachfront, shall be revitalized to the quality standards that Georgians deserve, without reducing public parking or beach access points, and with adherence to extensive and rigorous environmental guidelines to create one of the most accessible and eco-friendly communities on the east coast."

Vote "Yes" on this proposed resolution by visiting www.rediscoverjekyll.com to show that you are a Georgian for Jekyll.

Jim Langford is a project executive for Linger Longer Communities.