Tybee Island benches were removed in 2021. Here’s why they are coming back

A couple sits on a bench at a beach crossover near the Tybee Island Pier.

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

A couple sits on a bench at a beach crossover near the Tybee Island Pier.

Tybee Island beachgoers and residents will finally be getting back something they lost two years ago: benches.

Two years ago, the City of Tybee renovated several of the wooden walkways to the beach as part of maintenance to accommodate the beach's dune growth. The only problem was the City of Tybee had built the bench structures on the crossover's decades prior, without a proper permit from the Department of Natural Resources. Bringing the crossovers into compliance meant scrapping the benches, much to the dismay of the residents.

For Pat Lieby, a resident, who uses the Ninth Street crossover, the walk from the street to crossover is relatively short, but the length of the crossover is twice as long.

"I get tired from that walk," Lieby said. "So many people I've talked with, we miss the benches because we have an older population primarily. So, we need to sit down before we get to the beach."

Tybee has a population of about 3,000 people, with the largest percentage being those aged 50-80. About 30% of the population is aged 60-69. During the summer months, the population can increase to double that or more. Lieby said that people with young children also need the benches. Families love them, tourists love them, older people love them, she said.

"That's why it was important for us to advocate for the benches to come back," Lieby said. She was part of the push for the DNR and the city to figure something out. People were speaking up during public comments at council, they were sending out emails, letters, and signing petitions.

Now, the benches are coming back, this time with a permit from the DNR. The Georgia Short Protection Act, which regulates everything on the beach, prohibits benches, swings and pavilions, of which Tybee has all three.

The permit from the DNR, Shore Protection Act #497 includes rules and regulations for them: the pavilions may be maintained; crosswalk benches and swings permitted in residential zoned areas; rental equipment boxes allowed on the beaches seasonally, and everything must be reviewed with the DNR CRD annually in February or March. The benches will be on streets from 6th to 13th, Eastgate and Chatham.

One of the DNR’s concerns was the benches and swings possibly being impediments to nesting sea turtles, according to Alan Robertson, of AWR Strategic Consulting and Tybee’s consultant on the issue.

"The crosswalk benches are going to be 100 feet landward of the dunes, and the swings will be on the beach," Robertson said. "They want the swings to be 100 feet landward of the high watermark, because typically turtles are not going that fa when they nest, and then you don't want the swings to be in the dunes. So, they said 10 feet seaward, and it's like threading a needle in some cases."

Acting City Manager Michelle Owens said that the benches will be built probably once a week while the city is in its offseason. The swings won't be reinstalled until the spring when the city can pinpoint the high watermark.

"I'm happy, definitely happy we're getting our benches back," Lieby said. "They're not as close as they used to be, but I think where they plan to put them look good."

Destini Ambus is the general assignment reporter for Chatham County municipalities for the Savannah Morning News. You can reach her at dambus@gannett.com

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Tybee Island benches were removed in 2021. Here's why they are coming back


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