Jekyll Island’s north shore could see new life in 2017 if Gov. Nathan Deal gets all of his proposed budget items.
Deal is proposing millions of dollars in state funds for rock and sand.
At the board meeting of the Jekyll Island Authority on Tuesday, board chair Richard Royal, who also is interim chair of the board’s legislative committee, said Deal is proposing $4 million in his proposed fiscal year 2017 budget for shoreline erosion control on the north end of Jekyll Island.
The money is listed under the budget’s General Obligation Debt Sinking Fund which totals over of $1.2 billion for the fiscal year.
The beach at the north end of the state park disappears at high tide.
The north end is the site of a new housing development, The Cottages at Jekyll Island, located on 14 acres at 975 North Beachview Drive, the site of the former Jekyll Oceanfront Clarion Resort. Construction of Phase 1 is underway and on schedule, with several of the townhouses nearing completion.
With new hotels and retail shopping spaces open on the island, more tourists will be drawn to the island for fun in the sun. Because of those future crowds, erosion on the north end of the island has become a greater concern to the JIA.
In April, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and other specialists met with the board of JIA. Among those in attendance was Kevin Bodge from Olsen Coastal Engineering who told the board the island is getting smaller.
“I first did a study of this island in 1988 and keep a close eye on it every year or two,” he said. “The beach on the north end is undergoing massive changes.
“We have noticed the loss of 6 to 10 feet of beach per year lately. Up near the Villas by the Sea, it is cutting into the land itself, causing the island to shrink.”
A strategy effected five decades ago to prevent erosion has not helped. In fact, it’s only made matters worse, the board was told in 2015.
After hurricane Dora hit the Golden Isles in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson ordered that a revetment made up of what today is known as Johnson Rocks be put into place.
“It looks as though when the 1964 crew was nearing the end of the revetment up near Driftwood Beach, they used rocks that were way too small, making the revetment too short,” Bodge said.
“The smaller rocks and lower height have given way to the water, allowing the shoreline behind the wall to slowly erode, taking down trees and vegetation with the soil, all making it easier for the water to wash away even more precious shoreline. Right now, from Driftwood Beach to below the Villas by the Sea beach area, we have a large, 15 to 20 foot sunning beach that has been created by the washing. In some places, even at low tide, there is no way to get to the beach or into the water.”
This isn’t a new problem for Jekyll. In 2010, managers of Villas by the Sea, just north of the new Cottages development, hired Bodge’s firm to study the effects of erosion along the beach at the resort’s property. The study concluded that the eroded condition will not correct itself.
It noted that although beachfront properties are not in imminent danger and a remedy is not critical, a plan should be initiated soon.
One solution that was proposed was a large-scale beach nourishment project on a 3.7-mile stretch of shoreline or a strategic relocation.
Bodge recommended the authority begin to seriously think about taking steps to manage erosion and correct some of the land loss.
“There are several options for the situation,” he said. “You can do nothing, retreat, extend the rock armor, do dune enhancements, complete a largescale beach nourishment or work on a federal protection project,” Bodge said.
“Adding rock to the revetment and filling in the sand to make the shore meet up with the dunes/banks would provide the shore protection needed. Doing this in conjunction with a large-scale beach nourishment project would also give you beaches in the northern area where there is now only beach during low tide.”
Bodge estimates that 5 to 7 feet of rock needs to be added to the lowest revetment spots. In total, about 5,000 to 7,000 feet of work needs to be done from Driftwood Beach past Villas by the Sea.
The new Cottages at Jekyll Island are being constructed in between the two spots and is also experiencing significant beach and shore erosion.
It was noted in April 2015 that the cost of adding more rock and filling in the dunes where it has eroded will cost about $3.5 million for the entire stretch of beach. The worst erosion is in the Villas by the Sea area and would cost between $1 million and $2.7 million to complete just that area.
The new fiscal year begins July 1, 2017.
In other business, the authority heard from Bruce Piatek, director of historic resources, who briefed the group on the programming changes for Faith Chapel.
More than 150 people filled the meeting room at the convention center Tuesday, most of them there to voice their concern over the JIA proposal to charge a $5 admission fee to tour the non- denominational church located in the historic district on Jekyll Island.
About 15 island residents spoke during the public comment section, all voicing displeasure over charging an admission fee to go inside Faith Chapel.
After talking with some of the local church leaders and historic groups on the island, JIA proposed that Faith Chapel be open for two hours each day free of charge.
Beginning Feb. 1, the chapel will be open from 8 to 10 a.m. for prayer and contemplation. It will open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for tours by staff at $5 per adult. Children will not be charged to tour the chapel.
JIA Executive Director Jones Hooks said the authority is in talks with St. Richard’s Episcopal Church on the island. That congregation may soon conduct inter-denominational prayer services in Faith Chapel on the last Sunday of each month. JIA and the church vestry are working out the final details of that agreement which could lead to the first regular services at Faith Chapel in years starting as soon as late February.
The authority also approved spending four years and $150,000 to study whether the state park’s maritime forests are threatened by environmental stressors, including too many hungry deer. Researchers from the University of Georgia will study the health of plant species on Jekyll Island until early 2020 before making any recommendations.
Ben Carswell, director of conservation for Jekyll Island, said Tuesday the UGA study won’t focus solely on deer. It also will look at whether such factors as fire and soil moisture are putting stress on the island’s plants and forests.
He said the overall number of deer seems to have held steady since the issue first arose about five years ago.