Chatham County is on its way to adding the 400-plus acre Green Island to its portfolio of county parks. State Rep. Jesse Petrea (R-Savannah) last week announced the award of a $3 million grant from the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act program to aid the county in purchasing the island, currently owned by Savannah’s Lewis family.
“I want to thank Mr. Curtis Lewis and his entire family for their desire to see this island protected permanently,” Petrea said in a prepared statement. “As a native coastal Georgian, I cannot think of any better environmental success than to preserve more sensitive land along our beautiful coast for future generations.”
Green Island sits on the Intracoastal Waterway off the southern end of Skidaway Island surrounded by Green Island Sound to the south and Delegal Creek and marshlands on the east, north and west sides.
Petrea envisions it as a place for families to boat, picnic, go to the beach, and hike.
“We’ve gotta have places for our young people to be outdoors,” Petrea said.
One hitch is that it’s accessible only by boat. No roads lead to Green Island, which will make it hard to access for the average Chatham County resident. There are about three vessels registered in Chatham County per 100 residents, according to Department of Natural Resources records.
Another hitch could be the final price.
Considine and Company appraised the property at $10.3 million in November. The appraisal, which Chatham County paid for, is included in the GOSP application. It indicates there are actually two islands, Big Green Island and Little Green Island, with a total of 410 acres of upland. They have been owned by a Lewis family LLC, Island Investments, since 1958.
A rustic hunting lodge and dock sit at the island’s north end. It is otherwise undeveloped. For tax purposes, the island is valued at $5.4 million. But as the appraisers note “it appears Island Investments has exemptions that lower its tax for the island from $72,711 to $1,558.62.
Three privately owned 2-acre rectangular beach-front lots have been carved out of the island. Island Investments owns one of those and paid $18.87 in property tax on it last year, again apparently as a result of exemptions. The owners of the other two parcels pay $860 per year.
Island Investments put Green Island up for sale in 2018 at a list price of $11.5 million. With no access by road, it was marketed as a fly-in destination, with room for a helipad or landing strip. No buyer bit.
A sale video describes the island’s history from the 1700s forward. It’s been owned by more than one prominent Savannahian, including Philip Delegal and later the Stiles family who managed a plantation there. Superior Court Judge Peter Meldrim purchased it in 1925. The Lewis family took possession in 1958 and have owned it ever since. Historic ruins on the island include a Civil War gun battery and the Stiles plantation home.
At a press conference last week Petrea said he was acting as a liaison among the state, county and the Lewis family. A purchase price hasn’t been decided but Petrea said there was “a clear path forward.” In its application, the county indicated it would match the state’s $3 million in funding. Petrea said he expected the deal to be finalized by the end of the year.
But Chatham County Commission Chairman Chester Ellis said Tuesday he was unaware even that the grant had been awarded. From the county’s perspective, the process is still in its preliminary stages.
“We have not had concrete conversations about the county doing it,” he said “I know that the Lewis family asked us about purchasing and preserving it. But we’ve got folks who are looking into that now. They have not gotten back to me with the report yet.”
The Georgia General Assembly passed House Bill 332 and House Resolution 238 to establish the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act. Georgia voters approved the constitutional amendment for this program in 2018 with 83 percent support. The grant program, launched the following year, allows for the collection of taxes on the sale of outdoor recreational equipment to provide a dedicated funding mechanism toprotect and acquire lands critical to wildlife, clean water and outdoor recreation across the state.