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Fifty-four Sapelo Island property owners and other residents and two community organizations–Help Org Inc. and Raccoon Hogg Community Development Corporation–filed on December 9, 2015 a federal race discrimination lawsuit against McIntosh County, the state of Georgia, and the Sapelo Island Heritage Authority (SIHA). The families are descendants of Gullah-Geechee slaves who lived on the Georgia barrier island as far back as the 18th century.

The lawsuit alleges that the county, state, and SIHA are engaged in a policy designed to make plaintiffs’ lives so uncomfortable that they abandon their homes and their land. The suit alleges that the county and state are depriving plaintiffs of basic municipal services, limiting their access to their lands, and dramatically increasing their taxes in an effort to force them off Sapelo Island, which their families have known as home for generations, in violation of their Constitutional rights.

In October 2020, the firm negotiated a settlement to resolve Plaintiffs’ claims against the State Defendants. The settlement provides broad relief to Plaintiffs. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the State Defendants are required to convene annual meetings between the DNR Commissioner and residents and property owners to discuss matters related to Sapelo Island’s history and culture, adhere to a process for receiving proposed concept plans for the use of certain lands on Sapelo Island, and implement improvements to the water system on Sapelo Island, among other requirements. In addition, the State Defendants are required to make substantial remediations to the ferry, dock, and boarding facilities to dismantle accessibility barriers that have made it difficult for people with disabilities to travel to and from Sapelo Island, including the complete demolition of the dock facilities to be rebuilt in accordance with accessibility standards. The monetary value of the remediations are estimated to be several million dollars, and State Defendants made a payment of $750,000 to settle Plaintiffs’ monetary claims. Plaintiffs’ claims against McIntosh County, Georgia remain pending.

Case Caption

Drayton v. McIntosh County, Georgia, No. 1:15-cv-4274 (N.D. Ga.)

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