Sea turtles nest on Cumberland Island as environmentalists fight its development

By David Pendered

As the sea turtle nesting season heads toward its zenith in June and July, Cumberland Island has hosted the most nests so far this year – even as environmentalists try to block development efforts on and near the island.

Loggerhead turtle nesting

Loggerheads are making their annual appearance to lay eggs along Georgia’s coast. Credit: Georgia DNR

Sixty nests of loggerhead turtles have been reported on Cumberland Island this season, through Thursday, according to a report posted on seaturtle.org. These nests represent just over a fifth of the 271 nests of loggerhead turtles that have been discovered along Georgia’s coast.

Meantime, environmentalists are engaged in at least two efforts to protect the island from developments they view as threats to a national treasure.

A group based on St. Simons Island has filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Brunswick and one in Fulton County Superior Court over construction of a dock built over marshland to serve a privately owned, 87.5-acre tract of land on Cumberland Island.

In an effort unrelated to the dock, some area residents remain opposed to a planned commercial spaceport that would launch rockets over a portion Cumberland Island National Seashore.

The dock that’s subject of two lawsuits is viewed as a precursor of residential development on the Cumberland Island National Seashore, some of which remains in private hands.

The landowner who built the dock, Lumar LLC, received from Camden County in 2016 a hardship variance to divide the land into 10 parcels, according to a report by georgiaconservancy.org. Some nearby residents said at the time they expected a residential development was in the works.

The federal lawsuit opposing the dock’s construction was filed May 3 by the Center for a Sustainable Coast and a member, Karen Grainey. The defendants are the National Park Service, a unit of the U.S. Department of the Interior, and Gary Ingram, in his capacity as superintendent of the park.

Responses are due by July 9 from both the park service and Ingram, according to an order filed Thursday.

spaceport, Camden, trajectories

Rockets launched from the proposed spaceport in Camden County would soar over a portion of Cumberland Island at a height of some 30,000 feet, according to the FAA statement. File/Credit: faa.gov

The lawsuit contends that Ingram did not have authority to say the federal government had no objection to construction of the dock:

  • “Defendants’ notification of no-objection was issued in violation of the Seashore Act’s mandate to permanently preserve Cumberland Island National Seashore in its primitive state.”

In addition, the lawsuit contends:

  • “Defendants provided no rational explanation for ignoring the mandate of the Seashore Act.”

The lawsuit contends the Ingram responded to a request for information from the Georgia Coastal Resources Division. The division asked the owners of property adjacent to Lumar’s tract if they concurred or objected to construction of the dock, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit contends that Ingram responded:

  • “As an adjacent property owner, I have been informed of the intended construction and reviewed the plans and I do not have any objections to the project as proposed.”

A related lawsuit is pending in Fulton County Superior Court against Lumar. This lawsuit, also filed by the Center for a Sustainable Coast and Grainey, contends that Lumar, “violated Georgia’s Coastal Marshlands Protection Act by constructing the dock without a Coastal Marshlands Protection Act permit.”

If the judge finds against Lumar, the lawsuit contends state law would compel the company to “restore, as nearly as possible, all marshland to the condition existing prior to the alternation of the marshland.”

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. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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