Natural Resources Need Protection

July 1, 2013 10:00 am

by Charlie · 11 comments

This week’s Courier Herald Column:

This week, America will celebrate its birthday.  Most will do so outdoors.  But outdoors is becoming more and more of a rarity for too many of us these days.

Children who are plugged in to a variety of electronic devices at all times look downright confused these days when told to go play outside.  It’s how most of us older people grew up.  Yet for today’s kids, the opportunity isn’t as available as it once was.

We are a nation and a state that is on a march to urbanization.  The rural part of our world holds less and less of the population as time marches on.  With that fact is the loss of a connection with kids – tomorrow’s adults – and nature.  With these trends comes an increasing need for public parks.

Parks are an often overlooked but necessary function of government.  Whether protected by the national park service or state and local governments, parks provide public space that is increasingly important to a population that now thinks a third of an acre is a large lot.

Protecting and preserving park land not only provides land for recreational purposes, but at its heart promotes a basis for understanding and protecting the environment.  As politicians grapple with changing demographics, one area that remains consistent with younger voters (and appears to be holding as they age) is their concern over environmental issues.

Republicans continue to miss easy opportunities here because they too often miss opportunities, and defend partisan pushes in such a way that appears to be losing the next generation of voters before they ever give the Republicans a chance.  Reestablishing a commitment to state and national parks would be an easy way to begin to earn trust with these voters.

Georgia, unfortunately, doesn’t quite appear ready to make this commitment.  Instead, a recent opinion from the Attorney General appears to indicate otherwise.

Jekyll Island has long been the place reserved for everyday Georgians to see the beach and its natural environment.  By law, the island must keep 65% of its land undeveloped.  The Jekyll Island Authority has been working on a new master plan to redevelop the island – a move already drawing concern that the price point of newer redeveloped hotels will put the price point of a Jekyll vacation out of reach for many.  But there is a more disturbing possibility that the amount of Jekyll that will be developed will also increase.

The key is that the opinion of the Attorney General is that marsh land should be considered “land” for purposes of what can and can’t be developed.  Counting marsh land as part of the island’s size increases the land mass of Jekyll by over 1,700 acres, allowing for 605 acres of new development.

The amount of development that would be allowed under this ruling would change the character of Jekyll forever.  As marsh land remains federally protected, it would essentially allow most of the current high ground to become a large state gift to whichever developer can win the prize.  And in Georgia, too often, the well-connected know how to work this part of the system all too well.

On the other side of the state and political spectrum, the City of Atlanta is moving forward with its creation of The Beltline.  Often looked at as a future transit ring around the inner city, the perhaps the Beltline’s greatest achievement will be to provide over 800 acres of new parkland to area residents.  The largest park northwest of downtown will be on the site of a former rock quarry, and at 351 acres will be roughly twice the size of the city’s downtown oasis, Piedmont Park.

Georgia has vast natural resources and the means to protect them.  These parks, large and small, are of irreplaceable value to current and future Georgians.

As we celebrate the birth of a nation this week, we need to take a good look around while we’re all outside.  We have great gifts that need to be preserved.  Great states and great countries do these things.  We need not let the opportunity to do so pass us by.

DavidTC July 1, 2013 at 11:48 am

I’ve never understood this ‘65%’ rule. Or, rather, I’ve never understood the idea we should develop the remaining 35% of it.

No one has the ‘right’ to build on Jekyll. It is a park owned by the state of Georgia, and the only stuff we should be putting there are things that make it easier to visit. Docks, a hotel, and that’s basically it.

For some reason we’ve decided to have a convention center there, and soccer complex(!?) and all sorts of things like retail shops.

No. Hotels, somewhere to attach the boats, and somewhere to eat, and that’s it. You do not visit Jekyll to visit a damn convention center or go shopping, you visit Jekyll to visit Jekyll.

In fact, I’m not entirely sure we really _need_ hotels on the island, but I can live with that, especially since they’re already there. But we no more need a mall there than we need a mall in the middle of the Appalachian trail.

If it’s not ‘making money’, fine! It’s a park! It’s not supposed to make money! The only reason we charge anything is to offset the cost of it! If it’s too expensive to maintain, charge more to visit it or run less ferries to it or something.

DavidTC July 1, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Or, to put it another way, there appears to be some sort of confusion between different types of public land.

Jekyll is not a pasture the government ends up owning somewhere, due to tax default or whatever. The correct thing for a random piece of land the government owns is, indeed, to sell it to the highest bidder. That is entirely proper.

Likewise, sometimes governments will end up with pieces of land to lease. For example, shops at Hartsfield. And, again, to the highest bidder, this time with some restrictions. Again, entirely proper.

Jekyll Island, however, is a dang park. If it is make enough money to cover the operating costs, it is _done_. It needs no more work. It does not need to make more money, it does not exist to make money, it does not need to be handed to the highest bidder who promises the best returns. It exists _to be a park_, and it just sits there, parking like crazy, and our work is done.

Now, of course, it being a park was decided by an act of legislature, and can be _changed_ by that. Tomorrow, we could decide to sell the thing off to the highest bidder.

But _that_ would be political suicide…so what we’ve apparently decided to do is dishonestly sell it off piecemeal until it’s entirely ruined as a park, at which point we’ll shrug our shoulders, look around comically confused, and ask how that happened…and oh well, since no one wants the now stinkin island as a park anymore, we can now sell it.

greencracker July 1, 2013 at 12:25 pm

I learned a new fact recently: Colorado uses its lottery money to bankroll parks
http://www.coloradolottery.com/giving-back/where-the-money-goes/

The results are spectacular … but they have their critics, as I’m sure you would imagine.

David Staples July 1, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Any idea if they fund college for resident students? (It may be listed in your link, but it’s blocked by my proxy server at work under the “gambling” category. :-/ )

John Vestal July 1, 2013 at 12:58 pm

Sorry….couldn’t read the hl without picturing Miss Emily Litella’s (Gilda Radner) rant on all the hub-bub over trying to conserve our “natural racehorses”.

“Nevermind” :>)

Spacey G July 1, 2013 at 1:29 pm

How about we determine what’s marsh on JI by tying a developer or three to a dock post — at low tide?

saltycracker July 1, 2013 at 3:54 pm

State Parks are our legacy to our future generations. Contributing direct support to one’s favorite “Friends of….State Park” is a cornerstone of any giving plan.

It would be admirable to divert lottery money and support bond acquisition programs if only our politicians didn’t have commercial Disneyesque ideas to feather their own nest.

saltycracker July 1, 2013 at 4:09 pm
The Last Democrat in Georgia July 2, 2013 at 4:41 am

Good article, Charlie.

Raleigh July 2, 2013 at 8:35 am

Interesting, when I was growing up you could go to a state park without having to pay a fee. Now no one can enter a state park without having to pay not one but several different fees. Even with the fees the state is cutting back on park hours, maintenance, and available facilities. So what does the state do? It builds 2 more parks so they can have even less funds and cut more operational hours.

Let’s look at other facilities the state has funded like a 2.5 million dollar executive spa at Brasstown Resort. It was originally supposed to cost 500K but the larger question is why should state be in that business to begin with? As far as I know only 1 person lost their job over that fiasco. There should have been a criminal investigation where several contractors and officials were sent to jail. The average Georgian can’t afford to go there anyway.

Why did the state build a 30 million dollar Go Fish Center which most days there are more employees in the facility than visitors? We all know how good the state is at creating and running museums since they closed 2 in the last few years for continuing to lose money. Still we build more that will also lose money.

Why did the state pass on buying 20k acres known as Oaky Woods only to buy 10k acres of it at twice the price just 3 or 4 years later? You think it would have anything to do with plans for the site by some “well-connected” folks ?

The Atlanta Beltline is a great idea it would be a huge asset for Atlanta. It should be built but why was 600 Million of funding for it built into a SPLOST for “regional” transportation projects? Maybe one day it could have a “local’ mass transportation component but right now it is a park project, a good park project just not a transportation project.

Yes we do need more parks and we do need to set aside and preserve more land for open spaces but does anyone trust local and state government officials to be able to do the job. I know I don’t because they have proven they can’t.

Raleigh

Footloose July 2, 2013 at 2:13 pm

AG Sam Olens did the politically smart thing when advising the Jekyll Island Authority to give the General Assembly a chance to weigh in before the JIA tries to amend the state park’s Master Plan in a way that would increase the island’s developable area. He knows the Jekyll development issue is a toxic one politically and doesn’t want his marsh = land ruling to be the decision that lets the JIA toss a whole bunch of acres into the development pool, so he smartly passed the Jekyll ball to the General Assembly. Let’s hope the State Legislature is up to the challenge of fixing the Jekyll mess by settling, once and for all, the number of acres that are subject to ‘improvement’ by the JIA. After all, Georgia has just one barrier island state park — it shouldn’t be treated as a political plum to be handed out to those who are in a position to make a fast buck at the public’s expense.

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