Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Cumberland Negotiations Get Extension

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Cumberland Negotiations Get Extension

Article excerpt

ST. MARYS -- Sunday's deadline has come and gone for an agreement to provide public access to a historic black settlement at the north end of Cumberland Island.

But government officials, island residents and environmentalists are trying to stop the clock anyway.

They were still negotiating yesterday over how much access is appropriate for the settlement, which includes First African Baptist Church. That is where John F. Kennedy Jr. married Carolyn Bessette in 1996.

Officials said they were optimistic an agreement could be reached in time for Congress to release $5.5 million in federal funds for an important tract of privately owned land on the island.

"We're trying to work up an agreement and free the funds and provide access to the north end of the island," said Sierra Club spokesman Norman Owen. "This is a chance to end the controversy on Cumberland Island and move forward."

The deadline was imposed by officials from the U.S. Department of Interior and U.S. Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., and U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga.

Though the deadline has passed, the money will be held "a few days" in anticipation of an agreement, said Denis Davis, superintendent of Cumberland Island for the National Park Service.

If not, the money will be given to other parks or refuges operated by the Interior Department.

Park service officials have proposed that a boat ramp be built on the north end of the island, allowing for walking tours to the settlement.

Environmentalists support that idea, but not Kingston. He prefers allowing vehicular access to the settlement.

That is the sticking point.

Davis said the deadline had been set to give officials enough time to close the $5.5 million purchase of the 1,148-acre Greyfield tract, which splits the park service's holdings on the barrier island.

The Georgia chapter of The Nature Conservancy negotiated a deal last year to buy the land in five parts and then transfer each parcel to the government at cost. …

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