Harry Spirides, owner of the Ocean Plaza Beach Resort on Tybee Island, signed a consent order with the state Friday. In July he admitted to hiring laborers to shovel sand in the middle of the night from a dune behind his hotel over three weeks in February and March.
The Savannah Morning News reports Spirides has said was just trying to clear sand from a walkway leading to the beach. But investigators later pointed out the walkway is 60 feet from the dune.
“We had absolutely no ill intent here. Our motivation was simply to improve public access to the beach,” Spirides said in a statement released Friday. “In the future we will receive appropriate clearance from the DNR before we take any steps to clear the walkway.”
The $10,000 Spirides agreed to spend on education in the consent order comes after he was assessed a $100 criminal fine in July. The total cost to the hotelier could be more than $20,000 after he pays legal fees and restores the dune, which was also part of the settlement, said Spud Woodward, director of the DNR’s Coastal Resources Division.
“I think it’s large enough to show it was an egregious action and the penalty is commensurate with it,” Woodward said.
Georgia law allows for civil penalties of up to $10,000 a day for each day the violation existed. In Spirides’ case, the maximum possible fines would have topped $1.5 million.
Paul Wolff, a Tybee Island city councilman, said thinks the hotel owner got away with a penalty that “barely amounts to a slap on the wrist.” But he’s glad the money will pay for elementary school students and teachers to attend programs at the Tybee Island Marine Science Center.
“Hopefully that money will help to educate people to be better informed than Harry was on the function and value of dynamic dune fields,” Wolff said.
Mayor Jason Buelterman said he plans to ask Spirides to step down from Tybee Island’s Beach Task Force.