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Cumberland Island: Preservation becomes personal

By David Pendered

At some point, environmental issues can become personal. That’s become the case at Cumberland Island, where Karen Grainey has declared her opposition to a dock that her allies think could be a precursor for a 10-house subdivision on the nationally protected island.

A dock built into the estuary to the west of Cumberland Island is challenged in a federal lawsuit that contends a permit was issued improperly. Special: Jim Powers

Grainey provides a personal testimony in a federal lawsuit that seeks to compel the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers revisit its decision to allow the dock to be built. The case was filed by Grainey and the Center for a Sustainable Coast and the declaration, which seeks to establish her standing to file the lawsuit, observes:

  • “The center’s member, including me, visit Cumberland Island National Seashore to enjoy its serenity and its primitive character but the dock impairs the seashore’s primitive state and interferes with the enjoyment of Cumberland Island National Seashore. My recreational, aesthetic, professional, moral and spiritual interests are harmed [by the dock]….”

The lawsuit contends the corps did not follow federal administrative laws in authorizing an exclusion that allowed construction of a 296-foot-long dock with a surface area of 2,084 square feet, according to the lawsuit. Specifically, the lawsuit contends the public was not given an opportunity to provide input on the proposal to build the dock.

Cumberland Island, locator map

Cumberland island is about 300 miles southeast of Atlanta. Credit: mapquest.com, David Pendered

Even if the dock were built under stipulations of a proposed rule, the dock couldn’t be longer than 100 feet, nor have a surface area greater than 600 square feet, according to the lawsuit. The initial application for the dock mentioned that one house would be built near its end on the island. Subsequently, papers were filed for permission to build 10 houses near the end of the dock.

Grainey’s plea for the island adds a personal voice to the latest filing in the case. This one is a motion asking the judge to send the matter to the corps with instructions to review its decision that allowed the dock to be built. The outcome could allow for the public to comment on the dock’s construction.

The case has survived since May 2019 through various maneuvers in the U.S. District Court in Brunswick, in Judge Lisa Godby Wood’s courtroom. Grainey serves as co-director of the Center for a Sustainable Coast, alongside David Kyler, the other co-director.

Grainey writes about growing up in Jacksonville and seeing development change the nature of her homeland. Grainey cites in her seven-page declaration her ties to Cumberland Island and awareness of its fragility:

Cumberland Island rally poster, 5-20-17

Recent public efforts to halt proposed developments on Cumberland Island date to this rally in St. Mary’s on June 24, 2017. File/Credit: David Kyler

  • “My personal interest in Cumberland Island National Seashore predates my employment with the Center for a Sustainable Coast, extending as far back as my teenage years growing up near Jacksonville, Florida, when my family visited the National Seashore.
  • “My first visit was during the 1970s when the ferry service to Cumberland Island began. During that time, I was becoming aware of the paving over of the Florida coastline with vacation homes, resorts, condominums and therefore was very enthusiastic about the decision to preserve Cumberland Island.
  • “I was not disappointed. The sublime beauty and tranquility of the place amazed me, and I have returned many times since.”

Grainey continues with a description of the dock:

  • “Worst of all, it serves as an unpleasant reminder that natural areas ostensibly protected by federal legislation remain imperiled by development due to government agencies failing to follow the laws designed to protect these areas.”


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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  1. Joy Walstrum July 21, 2021 7:22 am

    Thanks David for the update. What can we do to help? A media storm is helpful. What about local, state and federal elected officials? Which ones have weighed in? Thanks/JoyReport

  2. Carol Brantley July 22, 2021 12:40 pm

    this is awful! Is this not a protected island? We need to leave Cumberland as it is. Thanks for letting us know what we can do.Report


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