United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division
LISA GODBEY WOOD, District Judge.
Presently before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment and a motion for a status conference. See Dkt. Nos. 28, 36, 67. For the reasons stated below, High Point's Motions for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 28) and for a Status Conference (Dkt. No. 67) are DENIED. The Park Service's Cross Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 36) is GRANTED.
Most of the facts in this action are not in dispute. Cumberland Island, located approximately three miles from the mainland coastline of Georgia, is Georgia's southernmost and largest barrier island. Dkt. No. 12, ¶ 13. Currently, the Federal Government owns most of Cumberland Island in fee simple. Dkt. No. 12, ¶ 15. Cumberland Island remains largely undeveloped, although some areas are improved with houses, docks, and structures that are used by retained rights holders, Defendant National Park Service ("Park Service"), or visitors of the island. Dkt. No. 28, ¶ 4. Access to Cumberland Island remains limited; no roads connect the island to the mainland. Thus, all visitors must travel by boat or use an airstrip. The primary means of transportation to the island is by boat. Dkt. No. 36, ¶ 4. Historically, noted families such as the Carnegies and the Candlers owned large portions of Cumberland Island and used the island as a vacation spot.
Beginning in 1930, Charles Howard Candler, Sr. purchased several parcels of land on the northern end of Cumberland Island. Dkt. No. 2, ¶ 17. This area of Cumberland Island came to be known as High Point. High Point Compound, which consists of thirty-eight acres on the northern end of the island, has several residences and other structures that generations of the Candler Family have used and enjoyed. Dkt. No. 2, ¶¶ 17, 57. The Candler Family has historically traveled to High Point Compound through the use of Brick-Kiln Dock, a dock located on Hawkins Creek. The Carnegie Family formerly owned the land where Brick-Kiln Dock was located but allowed the Candler Family to build and use Brick-Kiln Dock for deep water access to High Point Compound. Dkt. No. 28, ¶ 18.
Even from the start, travel to High Point Compound has been a time-consuming and uncomfortable endeavor. To reach Brick-Kiln Dock from the mainland, members of the Candler Family traveled by road to Jekyll Harbor Marina on Jekyll Island, another barrier island. From there, they took a passenger vessel down Jekyll Creek, across the Jekyll and St. Andrew Sounds, down the Cumberland and Brickhill Rivers, and up Hawkins Creek. The distance from Jekyll Harbor Marina to Brick-Kiln Dock is approximately 11.8 miles. The boat ride from Jekyll Harbor Marina to Brick-Kiln Dock typically takes around forty-five minutes, depending on wave conditions in St. Andrew Sound. Dkt. No. 2, ¶ 24. High Point Compound is located roughly 3.5 miles from Brick-Kiln Dock. This distance must be traversed by either car or foot. Travel on foot takes approximately forty-five minutes, whereas travel by car takes fifteen to twenty minutes. Dkt. No. 2, ¶ 25. The roads from Brick-Kiln Dock to High Point Compound are narrow, unpaved, dirt roads that have many ruts and holes. Because of their condition, travel along these roads by car is described as slow, bumpy, and uncomfortable. Dkt. No. 2, ¶ 27.
In the early 1970s, the Federal Government began acquiring land on Cumberland Island through the National Park Foundation, a non-profit charitable corporation, with the goal of establishing a national seashore. See, e.g., AR 0028-0036. A national seashore is a federal park located in a coastal area. Dkt. No. 28, ¶ 19. In 1972, Congress enacted legislation designating Cumberland Island a National Seashore. 16 U.S.C. § 459i-459i-9 (the "Seashore Act"). In 1973, the National Park Foundation conveyed the tract of land where the Brick-Kiln Dock was located to the Federal Government. Dkt. No. 36, ¶ 11; AR 0069-0073. In 1982, President Reagan signed legislation into law which, under the Wilderness Act, designated 8, 840 acres of Cumberland Island as wilderness and 11, 718 acres as potential wilderness. Pub. L. No. 97-250, 96 Stat. 709 (1982) ("Wilderness Designation")
The Federal Government and Plaintiff High Point, LLLP's predecessor in interest began negotiations for the Federal Government to acquire lands owned by the Candler Family. In 1982, High Point sold its property on Cumberland Island to the Federal Government but retained a life estate in High Point Compound. The conveyance specifically reserved certain rights. AR 0195-0206. The Warranty Deeds stated that the conveyance was:
SUBJECT to the reservation of use by High Point, Inc., and its shareholders, of the area presently known as Brick-Kiln Dock located on Hawkins Creek in Tract N-5 Cumberland Island, Georgia, free from unreasonable interference by GRANTEE, its successors and assigns, with such use, nor shall GRANTEE, its successors and assigns, be responsible for maintenance, repair, or any liability for its use[.]
AR 0201. The Warranty Deeds further provided, in a section titled "Preservation, " that:
[a]fter the expiration of such period of four (4) years from the day of [the] conveyance, High Point, Inc., and its shareholders, shall not add to nor materially alter the character of existing improvements or structures contained within... areas where High Point, Inc., and its shareholders, reserve easements and rights of use and occupancy nor perform any new construction or change the topography of the land without first having obtained the permission in writing of the GRANTEE, its successors and assigns. Any building or structure damaged or destroyed by fire or other casualty or deteriorated by the elements, or wear and tear, may be maintained, repaired, renovated, remodeled, or reconstructed so long as the basic character of the building or structure is not materially altered, from that existing as of the date of expiration of such four (4) year period as specified above.
AR 0204-0205. The Warranty Deeds also contained the following language:
Maintenance. With respect to... areas in which High Point, Inc., and its shareholders, reserve easements and rights of use and occupancy, High Point, Inc., and its shareholders, shall have the right to make normal maintenance and upkeep of the property, to make modern modifications to existing structures and outbuildings, to make repairs and reconstruction to comply with safety or other sanitation codes, to replace roofing or siding, to shore up structures threatened by subsidence of soil and to repair or replace utility lines.
Over time, due to natural causes, the flow of water in Hawkins Creek has changed, causing a buildup of silt in certain areas and making the area of Hawkins Creek where Brick-Kiln Dock is located too shallow for navigation by passenger vessels, except for during a period of approximately four hours at high tide. According to High Point, Hawkins Creek will eventually be unusable as a point of deep water access to Cumberland Island at all times, as the "silting-in" continues to increase. Dkt. No. 28, ¶¶ 58-60.
High Point, in response to this problem, requested permission from the Park Service to relocate the dock. In a series of correspondence between the Park Service and High Point from 2008 to 2012, the Park Service has consistently denied High Point's requests to either relocate the entire dock or just the non-upland portion of the dock. Dkt. No. 28, IN 61-91. The parties agree that the Park Service has issued a final agency action under the Administrative Procedure Act denying High Point's requests. Dkt. No. 28, ¶ 92.
High Point requested permission from the Park Service to pursue one of the following three options: (1) move the Brick-Kiln Dock approximately 300 feet to the north on Hawkins Creek ("Option One"), (2) move the Brick-Kiln Dock approximately 900 feet to the south on Brickhill River ("Option Two"), or (3) extend the Brick-Kiln Dock to the southwest, across Hawkins Creek and into the Brickhill River ("Option Three"). Dkt. No. 2, ¶ 81. The first two options would involve building a new dock in a different location than the existing Brick-Kiln Dock. See AR 0358-0359 (describing options). The third option would entail extending the dock from its current location to the southwest and into the Brickhill River by building an arched walkway of approximately 1000 feet to connect the non-upland portion of the dock to the existing upland portion of the dock. AR 0359. High Point maintains that each of the proposed options could be completed by moving or extending only the portion of the existing dock that is in the marshlands and keeping upland structures within their existing footprint. Dkt. No. 2, ¶ 95.
The Park Service reasoned that High Point's reserved rights under the Warranty Deeds did not include its present requests, and that, absent a reserved right, the Wilderness Act prohibited High Point's proposed actions. See Dkt. No. 28, ¶ 88. In its requests, High Point argued that the non-upland areas were not owned by the Federal Government, but rather the State of Georgia retained ownership of them. See, e.g., AR 0754-0755; AR 0903-0904. Thus, High Point contended that the Park Service could not object to High Point's proposed options involving construction solely over the non-upland areas, because that land is not owned by the Federal Government. Though contending that the United States has color of title over the marshlands and tidelands at issue, in its final correspondence, the Park Service stated, "the resolution of the marshlands ownership question raised in [High Point's] September 27, 2012 letter is not dispositive of the overall issue of whether the dock may be relocated." AR 0945-0946. The Park Service stated, "even assuming ...