Sea Island plan draws criticism

Opponents of an eight-house subdivision on the southern tip of Sea Island lost a battle this past week when the Islands Planning Commission OK'd lot lines, but many are still waging the war. The planning commission approved the plat for Cloister Residence East Tuesday, after receiving written and oral objections from Sea Island residents and environmental advocates that the project is too risky for a wind-swept spit of land at the Black Banks River and Atlantic Ocean.

Sea Island Co. countered that the only issue the planning commission legally could consider was whether the proposed lots met county zoning requirements, and that environmental concerns -- which the company said it could mitigate -- are for other agencies to consider.

James Holland, retired Altamaha Riverkeeper, a watchdog role at the environmental group of the same name and an outspoken critic of the project, bases one objection on his assessment that an access road would cross a marsh.

He contends the marsh is under jurisdiction of the state Coastal Marsh Protection Act. To build a road would require a special permit, he said.

"This is not after-the-fact documentation by James Holland. (The salt marsh is) still there. I saw it," Holland said Friday. "To me, the big fight is in the salt marsh, and how they've got it delineated (on the preliminary plat). That's where they've got to come in with that road, and it ain't right."

Holland also contends the beach on the southern end of the island has been greatly eroded the past few decades. To back his point, he showed planning commission members photographs he said showed the shoreline at different points in time.

Other individuals, including Frederick Marland, a marine scientist, and organizations wrote to oppose the project, based on the island's rate of erosion

Also writing with the same concerns were David Kyler, executive director of the Center for a Sustainable Coast, Chester Jackson, assistant professor of geology at Georgia Southern University, Alice Keyes, associate director of the coastal advocacy organization 100 Miles, Steven Caley, a senior attorney with the Atlanta-firm GreenLaw, and Sea Island resident Joe Fulcher.

"The science was good," Holland said. "(The planning commission) chose not to listen. I think if (Sea Island Co.) goes ahead with their plans, it should go to court."

Jane Fulcher, wife of opponent Joe Fulcher, also takes issue with the condition of the island's southern end. Much of the 7.3 acres designated for the subdivision is underwater at high tide, she said. She added that hundreds of species of birds that nest in the area will be traumatized or lose their habitat when construction begins.

"I'm in a state of absolute, utter shock that the planning commissioners would OK it," Jane Fulcher said. "(Islands Planning Commission Chairman) John Dow said, 'We're going to rely on staff.' If that's the case, why bother even having a planning commission meeting? The county government is not doing its job."

The planning commission voted, 6-1, to recommend that the county commission approve the plat plan for dividing lots. Planning commission member Stan Humphries, who cast the lone "no" vote, declined Friday to discuss the project, but said he thought it would not be in the public's best interest.

"It was not an easy decision. I read everything I could read, I walked the property and I talked to everybody," Humphries said. "It just didn't seem right to me, so I voted 'no' on it."

Sea Island Co. lawyer Jim Gilbert said the company has been thorough in its plans to develop the subdivision. Contrary to some citizens' fears, Gilbert said the company has no plans to buttress the beach around the proposed development.

He disagreed with claims that land there is eroding.

"We have years of close monitoring of the beach, from the south end to the north, that we have to do as a part of the permit for the beach renourishment that we did 20-plus years ago," Gilbert said. "There are people who have made diverse assertions about erosion. Some have to do with it's all going to go away, some say it's more rapid then it used to be. It's hard to say."

Gilbert said the company has made clear in its plans where marsh is, and experts will be involved in monitoring every stage of the project.

"We have looked at the boundaries very carefully with the best experts we can find. This is more or less a scientific process," he said. "You go to the state, and you establish lines, whether its judgment or science. Those are the lines, and we don't want to cross them.

"All of the (opponents') opinions aren't correct. Some might be. I think these are honorable people, and they have really heartfelt opinions. That's clear."

The next step for the project will be for Sea Island Co. to submit construction plans, including for roads and utilities, to the county for review. Any requests for need approvals from state or federal agencies would be included in the plans.

After the county staff reviews the plans, and if no problems are found, construction could begin, said Glynn County Community Development Director David Hainley.

-- Reporter Kelly Quimby writes about government and other local topics. Contact her at kquimby@thebrunswicknews.com or at 265-8320, ext. 321.

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