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EPA admin talks Terry Creek in U.S. House hearing
 wwolfe  / 

It might come as a surprise to some that federal Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler said he’s allayed local concerns about the federal government’s settlement with Hercules regarding the Terry Creek outfall, but he said he believed those concerns had been addressed — before walking them back — in a U.S. House subcommittee hearing Tuesday.

The hearing, convened by the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change, was to go over the EPA’s 2020 budget, as submitted by the White House. The Trump administration again advocated within its suggested budget massive cuts — 31 percent to the overall EPA budget and eliminate nearly 2,000 functionally full-time jobs.

However, there are a number of members of the subcommittee, and each had five minutes to get their specific concerns addressed. U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-1, received his chance toward the end of the hearing. He mentioned Glynn County’s Superfund sites, which he said were of major concern, and reminded Wheeler of a letter Carter gave him last year regarding the proposed settlement between Hercules and the federal government on Terry Creek, imploring Wheeler to address local concerns.

“I believe their concerns have been addressed, and I’ve also been told that consent decree should be finalized in the next month or so, but I’ll go back and make sure that their concerns have been addressed,” Wheeler said.

The administrator also said he would get back in touch with Carter regarding other sites.

On another issue, Carter asked about Tier 4 engines, a type of non-road diesel engine sought for use in workboats like tugs, and farm equipment. The idea behind them was they would last longer and produce less air pollution than previous generations of engines in use.

“One of the things that I’ve spoken to you about in the past has been the bar pilots that are so very important in escorting the ships in and out of the harbor,” Carter said. “The requirement now that they use the Tier 4 engines…. Now, we’ve had EPA personnel go out to the manufacturers that make the boats that they are required — that harbor pilots are required to have — and meet with them, and they’ve said, ‘Look, we cannot meet these requirements.’ And EPA has agreed.

“It’s my understanding that through the rulemaking process that you’re going to correct this. Can you tell me where you’re at, right now, in the rulemaking process, dealing with the Tier 4 engines?”

Wheeler replied, “We have submitted the rule to (the White House Office of Management and Budget), and that should be going out for public comment shortly.”

He said he was unsure on the length of the OMB process and said it would be either 30 or 60 days.

Regardless of what Wheeler said in the subcommittee, recent history says the White House will not see the massive cuts to the agency it wants. Even though the EPA’s lost more than 3,000 functionally full-time jobs since 2011 — 17,494 to 14,376 — its budget went from $8.1 billion in 2016 to $8.3 billion in 2017, and leveled off at $8.8 billion the past two fiscal years.

Community Church to expand into Brunswick
 gjackson  / 

The Community Church has dropped the St. Simons moniker off its name as preparations are ongoing to establish a satellite campus at the Glynn Place Mall.

Work has begun in the three adjacent storefronts at the mall that will be transformed into the new church campus this fall. The 14,000-square-foot church will occupy stores that once held Gentleman’s Outfitters, Footlocker and Jackson Hewitt Tax Service. Jackson Hewitt will relocate to another part of the mall to help accommodate the church, said Andrew Altman, the mall’s property manager.

The news of the church opening in the mall has generated excitement among the other tenants there.

“I’ve had a lot of good response from mall businesses,” Altman said. “We’re all excited.”

Jon Blankenship, the campus pastor, said this will not be a new church but an extension of the one on St. Simons Island.

“We’re one church with two locations,” he said. “We’re integrating the same things at both campuses. We definitely want to expand our influence.”

The decision to expand was the result of the swelling congregation.

“We have a big issue with parking on St. Simons Island,” he said. “We already had a solid base of people. We had reached capacity a long time ago.”

An estimated 700 mainland residents are part of the church congregation, which is estimated to be more than 3,000 total, Blankenship said. The new campus will enable the church to grow on St. Simons Island and at the new campus in Brunswick. People attending services in both campuses will participate in all church events.

“There’s a need,” he said. “We already had a solid base of people.”

Blankenship said church officials are working with an architect on the design and renovations needed to transform the old storefronts into a church, estimated to seat anywhere from 450 to 500 people.

The focus of the new campus at the beginning will be on Sunday services, including the 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. services, the Tiny Town services for children ages pre-K through kindergarten and the Kid Jam services for youths from kindergarten through fifth grade.

Blankenship said it’s likely some parishioners from Brunswick will continue to travel to St. Simons Island for Sunday services, while others will choose to go to the new campus. It’s also likely more Brunswick residents will also attend services at the new campus.

Altman said some business owners and employees have already told him they plan to attend church services before the mall opens on Sundays.

Blankenship said other church activities will be conducted on other days, but the primary focus early on is Sunday services. He expects mall businesses to see some of the congregation members shop at the mall or grab brunch at one of the restaurants with their families after services end.

“We’re going to make friends,” he said. “I envision the food court being full.”

Blankenship said the church has signed a three-year lease with an option to renew for another year. Ultimately, the goal is to build a free-standing church in Brunswick.

Altman said he expects the church will be a great addition to the mall.

“It’s been very positive having a church here,” he said. “Sunday’s a busy day at the mall.”

Elections officials discuss public education on new machines
 tcooper  / 

The Glynn County Board of Elections is gearing up to begin educating the public on new voting machines.

Georgia state legislators passed a bill overhauling the state’s election laws and requiring the purchase of at least $150 million in new voting machines. The state is still in the purchasing process and has yet to decide which voting machine supplier it will contract with, but board members said they need to be ready to educate the public on how the machines work.

“They all basically have the same thing,” said board member Ruby Robinson, at a meeting Tuesdsay.

Board Chairwoman Patty Gibson estimated the state will begin supplying new machines in November and said the five board members should keep their schedules open late this year and early next year.

“We’ll try to develop a program, so we’re all saying the same thing, and we’ll take a machine and get on the calendar for as many local civic groups as we can,” Gibson said. “We did that some years ago when we went to the touchscreen machines, and it’s time to do it again.”

Voting machine manufacturers showed off their products last month at a conference for elections officials on Jekyll Island.

“They do have 12 municipal sites they’ll be using the machines at in the fall elections. We’re not one of them,” Gibson said. “Hopefully if one is close enough, one of us will be appointed or delegated to go and just see how it’s going and see them firsthand.”

Board member Tommy Clark gave a quick recap of some topics of interest he took from the conference for those who couldn’t attend.

He touched on the required number of machines per voter — dropping from one machine per 200 voters to 250 — as well as the increased time a voter must remain inactive before being removed from the rolls and changes to voting age regulations.

“They’ve changed that now to where if you turn 18 on (the election) date or before, you’ll be allowed to vote (early),” Clark said.

In other business, the board briefly talked about the upcoming Brunswick municipal election.

Channell said the elections office will begin accepting applications for absentee ballots on May 9. The election is set for Nov. 5. Brunswick City Commission North Ward and South Ward seats, currently occupied by Johnny Cason and Julie Martin respectively, will be up for election.

Board members also discussed upgrades to the campaign finance features of its EasyVote election management software and progress on a project to scan voter registration documents into a digital database.

According to Channell, board staff is around 17 to 18 percent through the process. It comes in two steps: affixing barcodes to registration documents and then scanning them into the database. He estimated they’re around 20 to 21 percent done with barcodes, but a little behind on scanning.

Overall, the process is taking about as long as expected, he said.

The board voted to enter a closed session at the end of the meeting to discuss personnel matters, specifically applications for the elections and registration supervisor position.

Upon exiting, they voted to proceed with the interview process for their selected applicants.

The board’s next meeting is scheduled for May 14.

Hidalgo support speak at school board meeting
 lmcdonald  / 

The Glynn County Board of Education meeting room was standing room only at the beginning of Tuesday night’s meeting, due to a crowd that came to voice support for Rocky Hidalgo’s continued tenure as head football coach at Glynn Academy.

Two meeting attendees spoke in favor of Hidalgo during the public comment portion of the meeting, and the majority of the crowd left after the comment portion ended.

“We come to you tonight with one request — please do whatever necessary to help us retain Coach Hidalgo,” said Trudy Makler, the mother of a sophomore son at Glynn Academy.

No official action has been taken by the school board to remove Hidalgo, who has served as head coach for Glynn Academy for six years. His record in that time is 49-17. The team, under his coaching, has won Region 2-6A the last three years and most recently went to the state championship game in 2015.

Hal Hart, co-owner of Island Ace Hardware and Ace Garden Center on St. Simons, also spoke at the meeting in support of Hidalgo. Hart, a supporter of Glynn Academy’s sports programs, said he has witnessed the positive impact Hidalgo has had on the school and its football program.

“I would like to voice my support for Coach Rocky,” he said. “… I believe Coach Rocky is the best thing that’s happened to Glynn Academy and students in recent times.”

Both Makler and Hart noted the investment the school district has put into its facilities to improve the overall system.

“I know that we also have a brand new field house and athletic office opening up this fall,” Makler said. “It will be a shame at the time of this opening that the best coach that Glynn County has ever had will not be on the side lines the night of the ribbon cutting.”

Both asked the school board to do whatever is possible to keep Hidalgo in his position at Glynn Academy.

“Let’s invest in coach now and not lose this man who brings these kids into the program,” Hart said.

During the meeting, Glynn County Schools and the school board also recognized former board member Millard Allen, who served for nearly 13 years on the board before leaving in December.

Allen was honored with a plaque that will now hang in the school board room, in recognition of the many years of work he put in for the school system.

“I wasn’t sure why I was here, but I prepared a speech,” Allen joked, before thanking the school administrators and board for the honor.

“I would do it all over again,” he said. “… I really appreciate the recognition. It’s a team effort.”

In other business, the school board approved two MOU agreements with the City of Brunswick that allow the school system to move forward with plans to gate the portion of Mansfield Street that runs through Glynn Academy’s campus.

The school board also approved R.H. Tyson Construction’s bid to complete the Glynn Academy Science Building renovation and modernization for a $6,637,000 contract. The current overall budget is a little more than $7,109,000, which is higher than the original budget. But the school system is working with Tyson to find ways to save and reduce the project’s overall cost, said Al Boudreau, executive director of operations for Glynn County Schools.

Georgia state senator testifies against federal 20-week abortion ban
 wwolfe  / 

Georgia instituted its 20-week ban on almost all abortions in 2012 and now looks about to all-but eliminate its legal practice entirely with the six-week ban written into House Bill 481, which passed the state legislature and awaits the governor’s signature.

Riding a wave of state action on abortion restrictions, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., convened a Senate hearing Tuesday morning on S. 160, a bill that would federally ban all abortions after 20 weeks. Georgia state Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Atlanta — whose speech against H.B. 481 drew a significant amount of attention — was one of two against the proposals in S. 160 who spoke at the hearing.

Graham, in opening the proceedings, said about the bill, “It would provide common-sense protections for unborn children at 20 weeks after fertilization, a point in which there is significant scientific evidence that abortion inflicts tremendous pain on the unborn child. There are only seven countries in the world that allow wholesale abortions at the 20-week period, and they include China and North Korea. I think Iran, too. The United States should not be in this club. I don’t believe abortion, five months into the pregnancy, makes us a better nation.”

He later added, “The bill focuses on the abortion provider, not the mother. There can be no prosecution of the woman. The penalties will lie against the abortionist, and it is a simple concept — at five months, abortion on demand will stop, we will have exceptions for the life of the mother, and pregnancies that occurred from rape and incest, commonly held exceptions.”

Jordan said she was invited to speak because Georgia effectively had the same 20-week ban on the books for seven years and is now about to adopt the more-restrictive measure passed in March.

“There are real-life implications to these bans,” Jordan said. “Since its passage in 2012, Georgia’s 20-week ban has had a profound and deadly effect on the women in this state. Currently, it is difficult to get an abortion in Georgia, but it is just as difficult to give birth, and exceedingly more dangerous. This is especially true if your are poor and live in the rural areas of Georgia. Fifty percent of Georgia counties do not have a single ob-gyn. Seventeen rural hospitals have closed in the last seven years. Only 59 of Georgia’s 159 counties even have a labor and delivery unit.

“The criminalization of doctors who provide basic, reproductive care — care and treatment required by the medical standard of care — has been profound. Since the passage of Georgia’s 20-week ban, we have seen the maternal mortality rate double, if not triple, in the state of Georgia. This is no coincidence. And although Georgia ranks 50 out of 50 states for maternal mortality, it hasn’t sought to expand access to health care to poor women in rural areas, and in fact it has now acted to do the opposite.”

She also revisited her arguments against H.B. 481 — made in the well of the Senate during debate over the bill — and shared her story of losing eight pregnancies that she attempted to bring to term, while stating it was not the government’s place to step in regarding a woman’s privacy in her own reproductive health.

Despite Congress being in fully Republican hands each of the last three sessions, Graham filed four similar bills, and none of them received a vote in the full Senate. The House passed resolutions including similar language, but each of them also never received a vote of the full Senate. Considering the House is in Democratic hands now, there’s not much of a path of success for Graham’s effort this session.

Speaking of the House, the discharge petition to bring the House Republicans’ legislation on botched abortions — H.R. 962 — for a vote on the House floor was at 199 signatures as of Tuesday morning. That’s according to the Heritage Foundation’s advocacy wing, Heritage Action, which is pushing hard for the resolution. However, that still leaves the House GOP 19 votes short of the mark.

There are still only three Democrats on there — two of the resolution’s co-sponsors and U.S. Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah. While Heritage Action’s running total shows that McAdams is a signatory, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas — who is listed as a co-sponsor of the resolution — has not yet signed on. Assuming Cuellar eventually does, that puts the House Republican effort at 200, which then puts the magic number at 18.

Using Heritage Action’s list, the only Republican left who hasn’t added their name is U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney of Florida. Rooney, a former ambassador to the Vatican, can reasonably be expected to also be a signatory, moving the number to 17. So, the House GOP needs 17 more Democrats — in addition to the three co-sponsors and McAdams — to sign on in order to get to their goal.