Park takes title

Island land rights contracts expiring

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ST. MARYS, Ga. --- Larry Phillips didn't have to circle Sept. 29 on his calendar.

The ruins of the Dungeness mansion are near the south end of Cumberland Island. The National Park Service will be reclaiming more of the island in the months ahead as six leases expire.  Associated Press
Associated Press
The ruins of the Dungeness mansion are near the south end of Cumberland Island. The National Park Service will be reclaiming more of the island in the months ahead as six leases expire.

For 25 years, he has known when he would have to move out of his 1,200-square-foot home on Cumberland Island and hand the keys to the National Park Service.

Phillips, a Brunswick lawyer, is the first of six holders of retained rights agreements that will expire in the coming months. The agreements that gave the residents the right to remain on Cumberland were negotiated with the federal government when Congress established Georgia's largest barrier island as a national seashore in 1972.

While most of the property- holders have life estate agreements that allow them to remain on the island until their deaths, Phillips could not negotiate a similar deal.

Life estates were only offered to individual property owners, he said. He bought his home on a 0.38-acre tract from Sea Pines Co. and knew he would have to move eventually.

"We knew exactly what we were getting into," he said. "It was a deal, and I made it. My time is up."

The agreement has expired, but Phillips was given a 60-day extension because the move will be so difficult. There are no bridges to the island, so the home's contents will have to be removed by boat.

"It's been a good relationship with the park," he said. "I've never had a problem with the National Park Service."

Phillips said leaving the island where he and his family spent weekends and vacations for a quarter-century is bittersweet.

"It's always a sad time to leave what you like," he said. "It's not the end of the world."

On Friday, the rights to perhaps the most controversial tract on the island will expire. The 7.5-acre tract at Old House Creek was leased by Ben Jenkins, a retired doctor who died in June.

Jenkins tried to build a second house on the property without a county building permit or permission from the park service.

In all, the park service will acquire 49.27 acres, five modern houses, two historic structures and two docks.

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