Residents’ concerns noted in state park plan

1 10 2008

AJC

I have the privilege to serve Georgia as chairman of the Jekyll Island Authority. I accepted this appointment from Gov. Sonny Perdue, and I serve at his pleasure to help achieve the state’s vision for Jekyll Island: that Jekyll shall become a model for a self-sustaining conservation community accessible to all Georgians and once again contribute to the economic prosperity and quality of life for Georgia. This vision is clear and simple, but getting there is often complex. The authority board and staff are keenly aware that we serve the citizens of Georgia, many of whom are passionate about protecting Jekyll as a unique destination. So are we.

I’m afraid some have let their emotions become unbridled and this may be the case with the recent tirade of accusations made by former authority board member, Ed Boshears. Boshears’ accusations are not true, and the people of Georgia need to understand several critical issues.

First, Boshears was not “fired.” Boshears served a complete term, which expired in June, and he continued to serve as the law provides until the governor appointed his replacement. The governor’s reasons are his own, but we are pleased with the appointment of state Rep. Richard Royal. Royal has an outstanding reputation and is a successful businessman in addition to a public servant.

Second, the accusation that the authority engaged in unethical or illegal actions as it works to encourage investment on Jekyll is absolutely false. Last year, Boshears alleged that one of our private-sector partners received a $10 million “giveaway.” This is completely untrue, and was reinforced by a positive ruling from Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker. The selection of Linger Longer Communities, which Boshears voted for, was upheld in court after several challenges by a losing team. The authority board works in full compliance with all of Georgia’s sunshine laws with open public participation.

But the most important point for Georgians to understand is that although Jekyll is a state park it is also required by law to be economically self-sustaining and affordable. It is incumbent upon the board to set policy carefully, yet address a number of challenges, including declining visitation (down nearly 600,000 visitors per year since 1989) and deteriorating facilities (we have more than $30 million in necessary maintenance in our acclaimed historic district alone). This must be accomplished without massive support from the taxpayers — visitation must provide the self-sustaining revenue.

The board must work together to address these challenges.

Solutions include responsible revitalization that will allow us to slowly increase visitation and revenue with a low-density mix of redeveloped retail, lodging and convention offerings on just a small portion of the island. Indeed, a recent visitation analysis revealed that total development needed to generate necessary visitation and income over the next 15 years represents a net addition of roughly 1,000 lodging units, 400 dwelling units and 25,000 commercial square feet over levels that existed 20 years ago.

Other key initiatives include strict design guidelines and lighting ordinances that will protect endangered sea turtles. Having financially strong and talented private partners is a critical part of the equation.

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