Sometimes, it’s not whether you win or lose, but whether you fight. Such is the saga of the effort to save the beach at Jekyll Island. In this interview, Sen. Jeff Chapman (R-3) and David Egan of The Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, explain the cautious victory that has materialized out of defeat in the effort to get the Georgia Legislature to care about preserving Jekyll.
To summarize, it was last June, 2007 that the Jekyll Island Authority solicited proposals for the development of a 45 acre tract of land on Jekyll Island. That began a flawed, if not corrupt, bid process that resulted in a display of arrogant hanky-panky by the JIA, the award of a development bid to a big-time Republican contributor (Mercer Reynolds), a lawsuit by a disappointed bidder, and an effort by Sen. Chapman to get the Georgia Legislature to demonstrate leadership in protecting the open beach at Jekyll.
When the Georgia Legislature failed to care, the JIA announced that it had decided to “do the right thing” and relocate the proposed development so as to not interfer with the beach. This change of heart is not, in my opinion, due to any virtue of the JIA. Rather, the JIA is trying to make it appear it has heard the public and is now going to do the right thing. Bah, humbug. All the JIA is doing is trying to spin the recent action by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources which declared the beach area within the proposed development to be subject to the Georgia Shore Protection Act. What does that mean? Simply, the JIA can’t develop the area.
So, what is the lesson to be learned from this effort at Jekyll Island? Several things.
First and foremost: Many of the independent boards in Georgia don’t work, at least, not when it comes to protecting our natural resources from abuse by developers. Remember the ejection of Sally Bethea from the DNR Board last year! Gov. Perdue appoints the members of the JIA, as well.
Second, the only thing that is ever going to keep developers from developing your back yard is the law. This battle was lost, but for the Georgia Shore Protection Act which was passed more than 20 years ago when environmental issues received a little more attention prior to the push to develop every foot of land in Georgia.
Third, the Georgia legislature is virtually useless when it comes to doing the right thing. They refuse to correct their mistakes, such as the immunity they gave emergency room doctors and hospitals in 2005. They refuse to protect much of anything if it doesn’t affect their pocket book or improve their chances for re-election. They just don’t care. These arrogant self-promoters (and let there be no mistake, I am referring to the Republican leadership, particularly in the House under His Royal Sinus, Glenn Richardson) favor business interests in all things. Their mistress is the Chamber of Commerce, not the people of Georgia. They pass tax breaks for business in a year when they could not pass tax reform for individuals, and they did it in a year when, due to the Bush recession, no one should have gotten a tax break. They want to eliminate property taxes because they own so much commercial and investment property they would love to be able to pass that tax burden onto the average Georgian that owns a house by fooling him into paying more, much more, in sales taxes, under the guise of eliminating the property tax. They favor insurance companies and always make education the first victim of budget cuts.
Last but not least, fighting the arrogance of the JIA and other state agencies and boards is, ultimately, worthwhile. You just have to be strong enough to let the battle play out and every once in a while something unexpected will save the day.
Three cheers to Sen. Chapman and David Egan and everyone who supported the effort.