Pierre Howard: A true Georgia showplace is in jeopardy

March 28, 2014 

It is pretty clear that the current out-of-state owners of Sea Island are using the tactic of Admiral Farragut who famously said, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" as they push their plan to cram eight mega-mansions on the fragile south end of the island, known as "The Spit." It is a fragile wisp of land that should never have been zoned for development. On its beaches, loggerhead sea turtles nest and endangered birds feed and rest in migration. Thousands of Georgians have marveled at its beauty from a spot on the north end of St. Simons Island called Gould's Inlet.

Now, all that beauty is at risk.

If it happens, it will be a sad day for Sea Island, a place whose national reputation for excellence and good taste has been guarded by the long ownership of the Jones family. Our presidents, from Calvin Coolidge on down, have visited Sea Island and marveled at its beauty. In those days, the buildings were unobtrusive, blending with the natural surroundings. By all accounts, the Jones family was a good steward of the island, because they realized that what drew visitors were not the buildings but the beauty of the place. Sadly, those days may be behind us.

In the Book of Joshua, the commander of the Lord's army said to Joshua, "Loose thy shoe from off thy foot, for the place whereon thou standest is holy." In Georgia, we understand the protection of hallowed ground. Our battlefields, our cemeteries, our campuses and our coast are given a higher degree of protection than other places. Our lawmakers have put in place strong laws to protect our marshes and our shoreline, and we get high marks nationally for protecting our priceless barrier islands. Now that legacy of protection is being challenged.

For all of the legal arguments that can be made in favor of putting mega-mansions on "The Spit," common sense dictates that it should not happen. Chances are that they will be under water by the time the grandchildren come along. It's a bad idea with a lot of money behind it that will begin the inexorable process of allowing crass and gaudy development to become the hallmark of the venerable island.

There is still time to turn back. "The Spit" can be preserved in perpetuity through a conservation effort that would allow the owners to be paid and the land to be protected. Now is the time to raise your voice. It is not too late.

Pierre Howard, Georgia lieutenant governor from 1990-1998, has been president of the Georgia Conservancy since 2009.

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