The federal government shares local residents’ concerns about plans to build a new beach on Sea Island, a project that would protect eight planned oceanfront resort homes.

In fact, most of the questions the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has for Sea Island Acquistions concerning its proposal to construct 1,200 feet of the new beach on the resort island’s south end stem from public comments, Corps spokesman Billy Birdwell said. In response to Sea Island Acquisition’s January federal-level request for permission to build the beach, the Army Corps sent the company a list of questions on March 24 for which it needs answers before proceeding with its consideration, Birdwell said.

The Army Corps’ questions are based in large part on some 173 separate responders to its call January for public comments on the proposed beach project. The responses included individual opinions and those representing organizations such as homeowner groups and envorinmentalists, he said. Many of those 173 responders submitted multiple comments, Birdwell said.

“It was overwhelmingly in opposition to granting the permit,” Birdwell said. “And I understand that many of the individuals' comments had some very valid points that we had not been made aware of and that needed to be addressed. We take public comments very seriously.”

Among those questions, the Corps asked what alternatives Sea Island has considered, the project’s effect on the public, and additional biological assessment information, Birdwell said. Additionally, the Corps is requesting Sea Island provide “a signed waiver from the state of Georgia agreeing the work will not change Georgia’s seaward boundary.”

“The ball is in the applicant’s court,” Birdwell said Friday. “Us coming back with extra questions is not unusual. This is something that will have significant impact and obviously there is a significant community interest in this issue.”

Despite overwhelming objections from the public and environmental groups, the beach plan received state approval last December from the Shore Protection Committee, which operates under the auspices of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Sea Island Acquisitions has proposed building a 350-foot-long rock groin into the surf at the south end of the island, which is separated by Gould’s Inlet from St. Simons Island’s East Beach neighborhood and a public beach. The project calls for using dump trucks to haul 100,000 cubic yards of sand from another part of Sea Island to create additional beach between the proposed new rock groin and an existing rock groin some 1,200 feet to the north.

The new section of beach would protect the eight homes in the Reserve at Sea Island, a proposed oceanfront development that received final plat approval from the Glynn County Commission on Thursday.

While the actual resort development is moving along smoothly, the proposed new beach in front of it has attracted some official red flags. The Shore Protection Committee’s approval is being appealed. The appeal was filed in January by several environmental groups that are represented by GreenLaw and Southern Environmental Law Center. One of the groups they represent is coastal Georgia-based group One Hundred Miles. The appeal will be heard May 9 in municipal court in Brunswick by Judge Kristin Miller of the state Office of Administrative Hearings, said Steven Caley, a GreenLaw Attorney.

Sea Island is in the process of preparing responses to the Army Corps’ questions, said Scott Steilen, president of Sea Island.

If Sea Island Acquisitions answers all the Army Corps’ questions satisfactorily, the agency will then consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration about questions concerning the project’s potential effects on endangered species, Birdwell said.

Opponents argue that the beach project’s rock groin will alter the natural flow of sand to St. Simons Island, harming sea turtle and shore bird nesting habitat as well as causing beach erosion. Sea Island officials counter that the new beach will create additional wildlife habitat. Additionally, Sea Island will dedicate the extreme tip of the island spit to a wildlife reserve.

The Army Corps’ request for additional information about the project is promising news for Megan Derosiers, executive director of One Hundred Miles.

“I think it’s fantastic,” she said. “The Corps is clearly doing its job, looking out for our public resources. They are listening to the people they serve, who know the coast and love it and live here.”

The Army Corps has not approved such a beach enhancement structure on Georgia’s coast since the late 1980s, when it approved Sea Island’s existing rock groin.

Reporter Larry Hobbs writes about government, public safety and other local topics. Contact him at lhobbs@thebrunswicknews.com or at 265-8320, ext. 320.

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