Last week we brought you news that Georgia’s Attorney General Sam Olens issued an opinion requested of him from the Jekyll Island Authority as they work on a new master plan for the island. At issue is how much of the land mass is protected from development. Statute calls for 65% of the island to remain free from development, but what is “land” is the subject of debate.
Yesterday I wrote a column calling for emphasis in policy of protecting and improving Georgia’s nature preserves and parks, using the threat to expanded development at Jekyll as an example. I “may” have left the impression that Attorney General Olens was helping to foster that development.
After a few discussions yesterday I was referred back to the 9 page opinion from Attorney General Olens (linked here: Jekyll opinion_20130626111807.pdf (1) ) on the matter, which in just the first few paragraphs includes the following:
“As everyone involved agrees, Jekyll Island is a state treasure that should be preserved in accordance with the wishes of the people, as expressed through the wishes of their elected representatives.“
Emphasis was added to that last part, because it is clear that the Attorney General is interpreting what is written into law, and notes that there are a lot of words within the statute left undefined, or not defined according to the more strict guidelines that the Jekyll Island Authority has been working under.
But rather than try to make policy with this ruling, Olens instead continues a few sentences down with this:
“The current land area of the island, as set forth in the 1996 Master Plan, has been a matter of public record for seventeen years and the General Assembly has not seen fit to amend the applicable statutes, thereby tacitly approving that plan. If the authority is considering modifying the 1996 Master Plan so as to increase substantially the measurable land area of the island…I would recommend that any such proposal be thoroughly evaluated in a public process and that final action be deferred until the General Assembly has been given the opportunity to weigh in…Indeed, taking into account the various proposals for measuring the island, the General Assembly could simply declare the size of the island or state precisely how much acreage is subject to development.
It is significantly more clear after reading the entire opinion that Olens is walking a line between what is legal (i.e., stated in current statute) and what is policy (the current approach to how and how much of Jekyll is protected). The resolution of having those two meet shouldn’t come from a legal opinion or from a lengthy court battle. It should come from the legislature.
I stand by yesterday’s column that Jekyll is one of Georgia’s many treasures that must be protected. It is up to the legislature to ensure that this is done properly.