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The St. Simonization of Jekyll

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POSTED: January 23, 2008 5:00 a.m.

In 1983 Dave and Mindy Egan, a history teacher and a school psychologist, were on a golfing vacation, driving the east coast looking for places to play golf. In Georgia, they exited the highway, following a sign, to spend a day on Jekyll Island.

They ended up staying two weeks.

"It was such a unique natural environment," Mindy said. "We loved it."

The Egans resolved to retire to Jekyll, as early as possible. They returned home, sold their second car, and began to live on a shoestring. In 1997 they moved to the island.

Awhile back Mindy got in touch with me. "I thought you should know about what’s happening to Jekyll," she said.

You won’t believe this.

I didn’t believe it either, at first.

Let me go back to childhood. I was standing on the shores of Jekyll the first time I ever saw the great and glorious Ocean, a thing I had heard about. "Water stretches as far as you can see," my mother had described.

Being poor, there were no beach houses in our vacations -- there were no vacations, in fact -- but parents who wanted their children to see the Ocean could pack a picnic of fried chicken and drive east to Jekyll, where there was a public beach. The kids could stand and stare out at the great bathtub.

Jekyll was ours because in 1947 the state bought it for us, for all of us, and in 1950 created a state park out of it.

Now it is 2008 and the state wants to take it back.

Despite the Jekyll Island Authority’s (JIA) mandate to be "stewards of the land" and to "provide a Jekyll Island affordable and available to all Georgians," the JIA, nine people appointed by Gov. Perdue to oversee the island, has approved a plan that will destroy part of that very beach where I first saw something called the sea.

A development company called Linger Longer has been given the green light to rebuild the convention center. They’re calling it a "town center." Only it will have four-lane streets, 3-story retail stores, and two 4-story parking decks. That’s not to mention the 277 condos (nicely called "cottages"), 160 timeshare units, and three hotels totaling 725 rooms. And that’s only the Phase I.

Somebody stands to make a killing off Jekyll.

It won’t be you.

Two of the people to benefit are Mercer Reynolds and his cousin James, who own Linger Longer. Their Reynolds Plantation takes up more than 14,000 acres on the shoreline of Lake Oconee and Mercer raised over $200 million as Pres. Bush’s campaign finance chair.

The state plans to pony up $84 million to help the developers.

Jekyll belongs to you. It’s a state park, your park. Do you want your own personal island to become Miami Beach, at your expense?

Let your first New Year’s resolution be to do something. Visit www.savejekyllisland.org and call the Governor at (404) 656-1776.

 

Janisse Ray is the author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood and other books on Southern nature. She lives on a family farm near Baxley.

 

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