Sea Island company defends proposed development

Published 10:08 pm Friday, June 6, 2014

I wrote recently about the concerns of environmental groups over a proposal by the owners of Sea Island to develop 7.2 acres on the south end of the island. They say that the land is too fragile for the proposed development.
Those opposed were savvy enough to alert me to their concerns and I was interested enough to weigh in on the issue. As is my policy, I was preparing to contact Sea Island Acquisition LLC, the consortium that bought Sea Island out of bankruptcy in 2010 and get their side of the story.
Before I could pick up the phone, Sea Island Acquisition LCC was running full-page newspaper ads around the state refuting my opinions and making troublesome implications about my credibility.
Their response inspired opponents to run full-page ads of their own, rebutting the company and defending me and my credibility. The net result was to make the issue higher profile and more controversial than Sea Island would like it to be. Some overpaid lawyer probably thought the company was justified in its response. A first-year public relations student would have told them their strategy was dumb as a rock.
Still, I trudged down to the coast to hear from Scott Steilen, SIA’s president, and get his side of the story. The fact that while I was there I managed to scarf down copious amounts of corn-fried shrimp at the exquisite little Georgia Sea Grill on St. Simons Island was a total coincidence.
Give Mr. Steilen style points for not trying to justify his (and it was his) over-the-top reaction to my column. I got the feeling that given another opportunity, he might have done things differently.
With that matter behind us, we talked at length about the proposed construction — to be called Cloister Reserve — on the south end of Sea Island. Steilen is emphatic that the eight lots are not on a “spit” as claimed by opponents but on a “peninsula.” There is a difference in the two that would take me too long to explain and would likely give you eye-glaze if I tried, but it is an important distinction to Sea Island.
Steilen says the eight proposed parcels on the peninsula are over a mile from the southern end of Sea Island (the “tip”) and more than 20 feet above the mean sea level.
Even though the property is zoned for higher-density hotel rooms or condominiums, Sea Island says they will limit the “buildable footprint” to just 3.5 acres. The homes will be set back from the ocean and will not impact the beach habitat of sea turtles and birds.
I asked about the fact that Cloister Reserve owners would not be eligible for federal flood insurance. Steilen states that homeowners, not taxpayers, would bear the risk in case of flooding and that the current Cloister Ocean Residences are also not eligible for federally-subsidized flood insurance.
One of the major concerns of environmentalists is erosion. They say Glynn County tax parcel maps show the Spit’s shoreline has lost 200 feet over the past four decades and that studies by noted coastal geologist Dr. Chester Jackson, of Georgia Southern, indicate the area has lost 100 feet of shoreline in just the past 10 years. Steilen disputes those numbers and calls them “misleading.”
He says the rate of shoreline recession depends on a great number of factors and that it is the southernmost tip — a mile from the proposed development — that is “most dynamic” and that available information does not support the contention that the Cloister Reserve site is eroding at a long-term rate of 10 feet a year. He claims that construction activities will not cause the island to erode.
Steilen is most animated when talking about his company’s commitment to Sea Island. He bristles at the charge of “damaging the Sea Island brand,” citing a dedicated staff of employees who he applauds for having been through tough financial times with the company and never wavering in their commitment to building and enhancing Sea Island’s reputation, which he says is at the top of many industry rankings.
With that and a tour of the area, we were done. However, I suspect the issue is far from done with the opponents of the project. As for me, I have given both sides their say and I am moving on to other topics, such as the upcoming political races and our unappreciated public school teachers and how one is likely to impact the other.
Stay tuned.

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