"SAPELO ISLAND, Ga. -- Once the huge property tax bills started coming, telephones started ringing. It did not take long for the 50 or so people who live on this largely undeveloped barrier island to realize that life was about to get worse. Sapelo Island, a tangle of salt marsh and sand reachable only by boat, holds the largest community of people who identify themselves as saltwater Geechees. Sometimes called the Gullahs, they have inhabited the nation’s southeast coast for more than two centuries. Theirs is one of the most fragile cultures in America."
These Creole-speaking descendants of slaves have long held their land as a touchstone, fighting the kind of development that turned Hilton Head and St. Simons Islands into vacation destinations. Now, stiff county tax increases driven by a shifting economy, bureaucratic bumbling and the unyielding desire for a house on the water have them wondering if their community will finally succumb to cultural erosion.
“The whole thing just smells,” said Jasper Watts, whose mother, Annie Watts, 73, still owns the three-room house with a tin roof that she grew up in.
She paid $362 in property taxes last year for the acre she lives on. This year, McIntosh County wants $2,312, a jump of nearly 540 percent."