Georgia state representative and St. Simons Island resident Jeff Jones says he is opposed to the Sea Island Co.’s plans to install a third rock groin as part of a plan to renourish Sea Island’s beach with 1.3 million cubic yards of sand.
It started with a planned development of eight oceanfront homes on what is called the Spit on the southern half up of the island. A third rock groin would be constructed 1,200 south of one of two already existing rock groins to hold sand for a newly nourished beach and dune system, behind which the eight homes, a development known as the Reserve, would be constructed.
Jones and then-state Rep. Alex Atwood, along with multiple environmental advocacy groups, opposed the groin. The groups filed two unsuccessful appeals after the Shore Protection Committee, part of the Coastal Resources Division of the Department of Natural Resources, approved it.
After two hurricanes hit the Golden Isles in 2016 and 2017, Sea Island resubmitted the groin and renourishment project along with a long-term beach renourishment and management plan. The plan is currently under review by the Shore Protection Committee.
Now, Sea Island plans to dredge 1.3 million cubic yards of sand from a borrow site four miles off the coast to renourish the existing beach and build up the new section.
“If you put out sand without a groin, it just washes away,” said Bill McHugh, general counsel for Sea Island.
In an email to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials, Jones said he opposed the groin in “the strongest of terms.”
Jones said Wednesday that he had spoken to some environmental engineers about the plan, who convinced him it is a bad idea.
“I respect (the Sea Island Co.’s) right to develop their property, but there’s the old principle that I can’t do something to my property that would adversely affect my neighbor’s property,” Jones said Wednesday. “And that’s clearly what this groin will do ... I hope the corps will do the right thing and properly consider the impact of this if they issue a permit for it.”
In the email, Jones said “clear and convincing data, evidence and research” shows the groin will cause “permanent, unnatural, damaging effects to the entire section of coastline and the beaches and homes from the groin south.”
McHugh said Jones’ information was incorrect.
“That’s simply not true,” McHugh said.
Sea Island has its own coastal science engineers from Coastal Science Engineering handling the project, McHugh said. The groin itself has been reviewed and approved at the state level by the DNR, with assistance from the scientists available to them, he added.
The Sea Island Co. also evaluated the quality of sand it will spread on its beaches. It is beach-quality sand that meets DNR regulations, McHugh said.
McHugh said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, among others, would review the groin and beach management plan before it is fully approved. The Sea Island Co. also imaged the ocean floor at the proposed dredging site to make sure it wouldn’t disturb a shipwreck or other historical or cultural assets he said.
“(The public) can feel very comfortable that it is getting scrutinized by experts on the state level, and then completely separate experts at the federal level,” McHugh said. “We’re very comfortable that it’s a good process.”
Aside from issues he has with the project itself, David Kyler, executive director of the Center for a Sustainable Coast, raised some concerns with the methods Glynn County used to approve the plan.
Glynn County Commissioners approved an amendment to the county’s zoning ordinance in March to allow the community development department to approve the project, a step necessary for DNR approval.
“It appears to serve Sea Island and only Sea Island,” Kyler said.
Kyler also said he has concerns with the county releasing the final draft of the amendment right before the meeting started, which he said didn’t give the public enough time to digest it.
“I think there is little doubt that this violated procedure,” Kyler said.
Glynn County Attorney Aaron Mumford told commissioners at the meeting in March that they were not breaking any ordinance or law by approving the amendment.
Environmental groups unsuccessfully appealed the DNR’s approval of the rock groin in 2016, saying it would damage the coast’s ecosystem.
A beach management plan is currently under review by the Army corps. The plan is available at www.sas.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory/Public-Notices/.
The Shoreline Protection Committee is accepting questions and comments about the plan until June 17. Anyone interested should send them in writing to Jordan Dodson, Department of Natural Resources, 1 Conservation Way, Brunswick, Ga. 31520.