An Island of Security for G-8 Talks
Simple Pleasures for the Powerful Behind the Barriers
By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 5, 2004; Page A01
SEA ISLAND, Ga. -- In a quietly elegant suite, somewhere behind a spectacular cordon of security, a room attendant will soon be chilling refreshments selected according to the exacting specifications of international protocol specialists. There will be no champagne, no crisp sauvignon blanc, not even snooty fizzy water awaiting French President Jacques Chirac when he arrives at this resort for the Group of Eight summit on Tuesday.
Nope, when Barry Bennett, the State Department's summit spokesman, called Chirac's people to take drink orders, they told him the French leader desired only one thing: "I find out Jacques Chirac is a Bud man," Bennett said.
Chirac's modest request will fit in nicely on this island, where the sprawling multimillion-dollar summer homes are known as "cottages" and residents are almost apologetic about plunking down $100,000 for their country club memberships.
"It's just a deposit. You get it back if you move . . . or die," says K. Martin Worthy, who was chief counsel of the Internal Revenue Service for three years during the Nixon administration.
Hardly anyone says they have a place on Sea Island, a name that conjures images of wealth and privilege in southern Georgia. Instead, they say their summer digs are "down the drive," a reference to the two-lane road that is the only way on and off the five-mile-long barrier island.
On a normal day, there are no gates blocking the entrance to the island, which lies across the marsh from the fetid plumes of a paper mill on the mainland, about halfway between Savannah and Jacksonville, Fla. But, starting this week, the island is emphatically sealed off.
The counterterrorism security measures for the summit will be the most extensive in U.S. history, Bennett said. The leaders of the world's eight largest economies, and the nonmember invitees from the European Union, will arrive just weeks after Attorney General John D. Ashcroft announced heightened indications of a threatened terrorist attack on the United States.
The gathering has been designated an NSSE Level One, a National Security Special Event of the most sensitive nature. Security for the summit will surpass the last Level One event, the Super Bowl in February at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
At least 10,000 law enforcement officers from local, state and federal agencies will roam the summit area. Counterterrorism units will be deployed, and a sophisticated Internet-based communication system, unveiled last week by Department of Homeland Security officials, will shuttle messages between agencies. There will be so many boats in the waters and security forces on the ground that Georgia natural resources officials offered to teach the unfamiliar how to avoid broadsiding manatees or squashing the eggs of endangered sea turtles.
Barbed wire is already being unspooled, and National Guard members in camouflage are fiddling with satellite dishes under the oak trees that line the manicured causeway leading to the most exclusive of Georgia's "Golden Isles." The locals have watched it all with detached amusement, and the tales are growing larger by the minute.
"I don't know if it's true, but I heard a couple of fishermen tied up over by Brunswick and two Navy SEALs popped up out of the marsh," said Bill Jones, a friend of President Bush's family who heads the real estate company that owned and developed Sea Island.
For years, Sea Island has been one of those hush-hush places. Movie stars and presidents stayed at its cluster of $800-a-night suites, known as the Cloister, or rented cottages because it wasn't on the usual round of summer hot spots.
Playwright Eugene O'Neill lived in one of the island's 600 cottages; now cottage owners include Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz, CBS News stalwart Bob Schieffer and former Attorney General Griffin B. Bell. Forbes magazine rated Sea Island, where the median home price was $2.2 million in 2002, No. 3 among the nation's most expensive Zip codes, trailing only Jupiter Island, Fla., and Aspen, Colo.
Putsie Worthy, wife of the former IRS lawyer, recalled peeking out of her window when a vacationing Cal Ripken Jr. pedaled past not long ago. But, even though she's a devoted baseball fan, she never thought to approach the Baltimore Orioles legend.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company