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With Donation Ocean Plaza Resort settles case with Department of Natural Resources

Moving sand dune from handicapped ramp case now closed

The purpose of this press release is to announce a settlement has been reached in the Georgia Department of Natural Resources' (DNR) investigation of the Ocean Plaza Beach Resort and its owner Harry Spirides for moving sand in a sand dune area that was migrating toward and in some places covering a handicapped accessible, wooden sand dune crossover walkway in front of the Ocean Plaza Beach Resort, located on Tybee Island, GA.  Where sand covered the walkway it was obstructing beach access for Ocean Plaza’s disabled hotel guests and guests with small children in strollers.  In the settlement, Ocean Plaza Resort and its owner Harry Spirides, without admitting any violation of law, agree to make a $10,000 charitable donation to the Tybee Island Marine Science Center's Sidewalk to the Sea program and also plant sea oats in the area where the sand dune disturbance occurred.  Sidewalk to the Sea provides educational field trips to the seashore for Savannah’s inner city elementary school students, many of which have never before seen the ocean.  Ocean Plaza Resort's donation will completely fund a fun and educational trip to Tybee Island's beaches for more than 800 students and teachers from Shuman Elementary School in Savannah.  Only sea oat replanting, and no movement of sand, was needed to restore the disturbed area, because the dune had already regenerated itself. 

Harry Spirides, owner & chief executive officer of Ocean Plaza Beach Resort, said back in March hotel workers were clearing sand from the handicapped-accessible walkway to and from the beach when they lowered the height of an adjacent sand dune that was continuously spilling over onto the walkway.  

 “We had absolutely no ill intent here—our motivation was simply to improve public access to the beach,” Spirides said. “In the future we will receive appropriate clearance from the DNR before we take any steps to clear the walkway.  We at Ocean Plaza Resort fully support preserving the natural beauty of the beach, and we have supported ecology based organizations and events for years.”

For several weeks Spirides has been working cooperatively with DNR to reach a mutually-agreeable solution to the sand moving event.  Spirides states he is pleased with the outcome.

“No animals or their habitats were harmed during this sand moving project, and nothing beyond simple hand shovels were used.  No sand was removed from the dune.  The sand was just redistributed to each side of the dune.  Most of the sand dune has grown back, and Ocean Plaza Resort is committed to restoring any disturbed vegetation to its original condition and will be working with DNR over the next couple months to accomplish this goal,” says Spirides. 

Spirides said he requested that he be allowed to make this donation to settle this case because he believes that Sidewalk to the Sea is a very worthwhile and innovative program that provides inner city school children with the opportunity to visit and learn about the beach and its ecosystems which they would never have otherwise had.  Spirides says, “Ocean Plaza Beach Resort is proud to support this little known but very worthwhile program to bring inner city school children to the seashore and teach them all about our coastal ecology and geography.  I challenge other companies to adopt a school through the Sidewalk to the Sea program.  We have adopted Shuman Elementary School.”   

Spirides, whose family has owned and managed businesses in Tybee Island's downtown commercial district for the past 70 years and who himself has worked at the resort for more than 30 years, says he would like to see the City of Tybee Island adopt an ongoing active beach management plan to maintain the beach between beach renourishments which occur approximately every 7 years.  Spirides explains, "This part of the beach is a very dynamic area, and the millions of tons of sand which have been deposited on the beach by past beach renourishment projects is constantly moving around and must be managed by a formal plan.” 

He says to deposit millions of tons of sand on the beach and then to not manage or maintain it and let it blow around in the wind and completely cover up expensive dune crossover walkways which have been paid for by taxpayer dollars is financially irresponsible.  Spirides states, “Dumping sand on the beach is only half of the process.  You have to manage that sand through an ongoing active beach management plan.  Such plans are common and have provisions in them to move windblown sand from areas of excess sand accumulation to areas of sand scarcity, between beach renourishment projects.  That is what many other beachside communities around the country do.  Having an ongoing active beach management plan would allow Tybee Island's beaches to go for longer periods of time (years) between very costly ocean dredge-based beach renourishments, and in these days of deep government budget cuts that would be a good thing.” 

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