Help save Cumberland Island

By David and Kim Thompson | Apr 21, 2017

To the editor:

We are writing to ask for your help in elevating the public profile regarding the extremely alarming situation unfolding on Cumberland Island, Georgia’s southern most barrier island. You probably know of, or may have personally experienced, its majestic live oak forests, it’s unspoiled 17 mile National Seashore, it’s nourishing solitude.  All of this wild beauty is currently under threat of being lost to development forever.

In brief recap: in 1998 88+ acres, stretching from marsh to seashore just above the SeaCamp dock, were privately sold by the Rockerfeller’s to the Lumar LLC (now known to be representing the Candler family – retained rights owners of the High Point compound on the north end of the island) with the Lumar LLC representative stating “their plan is to keep, hold, and preserve the property”.  The land was knowingly purchased and is currently zoned as “conservation preservation” – which does not allow for the construction of residences.  Shockingly, 20 years later and facing the looming end date of their retained rights agreement from 1982,  the Candler family, led by Glen Warren of Atlanta, himself a Candler, has been successful in securing a hardship variance from the Camden County Commissioners – though they did not meet any of the 5 criteria for such a variance – paving the way for 10 residences they intend to construct for friends and family.  Orange painted survey marks are already installed, with one house to be located just 100 feet from Sea Camp Campground!  An appeal to the County Board of Commissioners brought by the Southern Environmental Law Center and by St Mary’s Earthkeepers has twice been scheduled and put off.

This is where the situation has spiraled wildly out of control. Now, roughly one dozen private land owners  have joined and petitioned for rezoning their land, putting nearly 1000 acres of remaining inholdings on the block for residential development. The potential number of houses that they could allow on this incomparably beautiful island could reach 800!  The very thought of this is horrific and devastating.   As we are writing this letter, the fate of Cumberland is slated to be decided by just 5 Camden County Commissioners in a very short time - we understand a decision will be made at their June meeting.

As many see it, a select few, with money and influence, are trying to change the rules to their benefit – and if they win, the rest of us, and all the generations to follow, lose something rare and irreplaceable.  Many  individuals, even  are passionately opposed to this potential development. Development on Cumberland has been likened to putting up a housing development in the middle of Yosemite – absolutely unthinkable.

There is a slow growing ground swell of support to stop this potential tragedy, both from individuals and a few organizations, but the story needs a larger profile, and there is a need to garner support for a cohesive long term plan to mobilize around to effectively stop this snowball and permanently protect Cumberland. One idea that has been mentioned is for the National Park Service to condemn the property, purchase it by eminent domain, so that the near entirety of the island is granted National Park Status.  The County Commissioners have expressed and openness to this option, but among other things, it would need funding - a higher public profile would help in raising the public funds.

If something isn’t done soon, it will be too late.  Do you think you could help by writing a focal piece for your publication to raise the public awareness, provide the contact information for the 5 Camden County Commissioners who are currently taking phone calls, and appeal for action from your readers?  This story is not getting the spotlight it deserves.

The most current information on this situation can be found

Thank you for your time and consideration.

David and Kim Thompson