July 25, 2008

Georgia, Council Consider Changes for Tybee Beach

By Lesley Conn, Savannah Morning News, Ga.

Jul. 24--Tybee Island's shoreline could be reshaped by two actions under consideration today.

In the first, the state Department of Natural Resource's Coastal Resources Division will review a city permit for beach work.

It would allow the city to flatten some dunes and create a 20-foot-wide road for emergency vehicles along a 2.7-mile stretch of the island.

That's the part that has some beach residents worried.

What's considered the good news comes with the second proposal. The council tonight will decide whether to match another $960,000 in federal funding for beach renourishment.

The council will have to provide $622,000 in matching funds.

Renourishment could make flattening dunes for an emergency route a moot point, said Lou Off, president of Tybee's Beach Task Force, a council advisory committee.

"Renourishment could give us a 100-foot flat area, even a 300-foot flat area," Off said.

The emergency access request remains part of the permit because, if granted, it will last five years. If renourishment does not last the expected seven years, emergency workers could need access, and this permit would grant it, Off said.

Renourishment, which now has combined federal, state, county and city funds totaling more than $12 million, could start as early as October, he said.

The one area of the permit raising the most alarm is the request for a 20-foot-wide road for emergency access vehicles.

Even calling it a road has turned into a bone of contention. The Coastal Resources Division staff report refers to it alternately as a "flattened area," a swath and a path.

Whatever it's called, it would allow the city to create a 20-foot-wide route just above the high-water mark along the beach. Dunes along the high-water mark would be bulldozed to create the swath.

City officials contend the route is needed for emergency vehicles because dunes and high tides sometimes block their access.

Former City Councilwoman Kathryn Williams is one of the Tybee residents aghast at the idea. She plans to attend the permit hearing in Brunswick.

"The concept of leveling sand dunes in my mind is the most ludicrous thing I've ever heard of," she said. "Millions of dollars have been spent restoring the beach, and I can't justify destroying dunes."

Off counters that the few dunes that would be flattened are "frontier dunes" that are smaller, closer to the shore and will be quickly recreated during renourishment.

"These are not primary dunes that help with hurricane buffers," he said. "If that were the case, I'd be jumping up and down with everyone else."

Williams also doubts whether the route is needed for emergency access. In November, city staff asked council to approve a permit that would allow dunes to be altered. According to minutes of the Nov. 8 meeting, the reason given was that some area hotels want some dune areas removed to enhance beach visitors' recreation.


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