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Better beaches possible through higher parking fees

By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

Jekyll and Tybee Island beach-goers are willing to pay more to park at the beach if it means the beaches will be wider and sandier at high tide.

"Erosion is a major concern involved in managing coastal lands," said Warren Kriesel, an agricultural economist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

To find out whether Georgia beach-goers would be willing to help pay to control shoreline erosion, Kriesel and his colleagues surveyed tourists on Georgia's Jekyll and Tybee Islands. They used funds from a Georgia Sea Grant.

No beach at high tide

"In developed areas, 55 percent of Georgia's shoreline has been armored with concrete seawalls or large boulders in an effort to control erosion," Kriesel said. "Armoring degrades a beach's recreation and natural habitat, because it disrupts the flow of sand."

Preventing property losses with seawalls on developed coastlines often results in the beach disappearing at high tide.

Kriesel said officials charged with managing the state's public beaches typically use two strategies: artificially renourish the beach by bringing in sand, or let nature take its course.

"Poor-quality beaches can drive tourists away," he said. "Wide, sandy beaches are vital to tourism in coastal communities. And the tourism industry is an important part of these local economies."

Georgia islands focus of study

Jekyll Island, 8 miles from Brunswick, Ga., is about 5,000 acres of state-owned land. It's managed by the Jekyll Island Authority. State law prohibits more than 35 percent of the island being developed.

Tybee Island is 18 miles south of Savannah, Ga. and is visited more than Jekyll. Most of Tybee's property is privately owned and developed in single-family residences and condominiums.

"Jekyll's erosion has historically been controlled by seawalls, which were built following an extensive hurricane in 1964," Kriesel said.

"Tybee's erosion was first managed with a seawall," he said. "Then beach nourishments programs were done in conjunction with the dredging of the Savannah River waterway. Every 10 years or so, there's a nourishment program."

Beach-goers on each island were surveyed during spring, summer and fall. On each island, the people surveyed were shown a map of the island's current conditions and a map of the island with improvements resulting from erosion-control tactics.

Pick one: As is, or better

They were asked if they preferred the status quo with the existing parking fee or the improved beach conditions with a higher parking fee. "We also asked whether the increased parking fee would affect the number of times they visit the beach," Kriesel said.

More than 1,000 usable surveys were collected on each island.

The UGA study revealed that 71 percent of the beach-goers surveyed on both islands would be willing to pay higher parking fees to generate funds for shoreline erosion control.

The UGA researchers estimated the cost of erosion control based on the 1990 nourishment project on Sea Island, Ga., 8 miles north of Jekyll Island.

"The nourishment on Sea Island initially cost $7.5 million for 2 miles, with annual maintenance costs of $125,000," he said. "We assume these projects last about 10 years before the eroded sand is replenished by another project. We also adjusted our cost estimation for inflation."

Kriesel estimated the cost of a beach nourishment program for the 2.9 miles of Jekyll Island to be about $27.4 million. The cost of beach nourishment on Tybee Island's 2 miles of eroded shore would be about $18.9 million, he said.

The respondents placed high value, too, on better quality beaches.

"This value is significantly larger than the estimated cost of achieving improved beach quality," Kriesel said. "The benefit/cost ratio is at least 4:3. We hope local governments will use these results to plan preservation of Georgia's coastal environment. Investing in better beaches is an economically attractive use of resources on the Georgia coast."

(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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