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Monday, September 23, 2013 - 11:40am

Jekyll Officials Propose Big Change

Jekyll Island officials are proposing a big change in how the island's natural areas are protected.

The island's governing board wants to replace the law that mandates what percentage of the island can be developed.

Jekyll Island is a state-owned park and one of four Georgia barrier islands accessible by car.

It's protected under a 42 year old state law that says only 35% of it can be developed.

Officials want to replace the percentage of land with a specific number of acres: 1,675.

David Egan of the Initiative To Protect Jekyll says the switch makes sense.

"There's always been a debate as to whether the marsh should or should not be counted or how much of the marsh if any should be counted." Egan says. "The fixed acreage approach removes the marsh. Therefore that debate at least would be ended."

But Egan and other conservationists are skeptical the change will prevent new development.

The island attracts regular debate over the interplay of people and nature.

Jekyll Island authorities say they don't need legislative approval to enact the change.

Spokesman Eric Garvey of the Jekyll Island Authority says defining what's considered "land" on the island's swampy backside has become a bitter recurring debate.

"Setting it at a fixed acreage made much more sense than continuing to try to calculate the 65% of the island," Garvey says.

Conservation groups generally support the measure.

It would cap the number of acres open for future development at 66.

A panel of state lawmakers will meet next month to discuss whether the number should be enshrined in law or kept in the hands of a state-appointed board.