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Some Pier Village restaurants likely to close early next week due to 'hiccup' in drainage project
 tcooper  / 

Some businesses in the Pier Village on St. Simons Island may not be able to open early next week due to a change of plans in the county’s village drainage improvement project.

GWES Engineer Burke Murph said contractors uncovered a water line that wasn’t identified in their documents near Barbara Jean’s restaurant. The pipe conflicts with plans to run a drainage pipe through the area and needs to be lowered, he said.

“This was an unknown. The water line that was uncovered was not identified previously,” Murph said. “It was an unknown, we had no idea it was there.”

Following the water line lowering, Murph said the utility will need to put out a 48-hour precautionary boil-water advisory that will apply to Brogan’s South, The Half Shell, St. Simons Tea Company and Barbara Jean’s restaurant, he said.

Jim and Barbara Barta, owners of Barbara Jean’s, were none too pleased with the development.

“In other words, we won’t be able to open,” Jim said. “... You’ve got to be kidding.”

The Glynn County Health Department has warned them before that, even if they have water service, they can’t serve food cooked with tap water or served on dishes washed with tap water during a boil-water advisory.

“We can’t remain open during boil-water advisories. They won’t let us,” said Barbara Barta.

Project Manager Aaron Beckworth asked if they could use bottled water, to which Jim Barta replied that they couldn’t afford to wash dishes and cook food all day with bottled water.

Glynn County Commissioner David O’Quinn asked for any solutions to prevent the businesses from having to close.

Brunswick-Glynn County Joint Water and Sewer Commission officials said they could think of no way to maintain service to the establishments without issuing a boil-water advisory.

Best case scenario, Beckworth said contractors lower the water line in four to six hours late Sunday night and issue the advisory very early Monday morning. Businesses would then be able to open late Tuesday or on Wednesday.

“Of the worst times to do it, is that the least worst time to do it?” said county Public Works Director Dave Austin.

“It’s the best of the worst,” Jim Barta said.

On the pavement side, Mallery Street’s western sidewalk has been replaced with new concrete from Butler Avenue up to Lord Avenue, said Beckworth.

Work crews have moved on to demolishing and installing new curbs and were preparing to pour concrete in front of Iguanas Seafood Wednesday morning.

Murph said it looks like the contractors will be finished laying new concrete that day, which Beckworth confirmed. Beckworth then said they would begin tearing up asphalt parking spaces Wednesday night.

They will clean up the area and move equipment prior to the weekend, Murphy added.

If everything goes to plan, Beckworth said he’d like to be laying new asphalt by Friday of next week. However, around 10 parking spaces will have to remain closed at any given time to make room for construction equipment, he said.

“You’re talking maybe 25 percent of the available parking spaces on Mallery. On one side. I’d call that a substantial hit,” Jim Barta said.

When the contractors begin laying new asphalt, however, they’ll need to close all the parking spaces between Butler Avenue and Del Sur restaurant.

“Next Friday morning the west side of Mallery Street — and they will start as soon as they can get asphalt — all the parking on the west side of Mallery next Friday morning will be closed, depending on the weather,” Murph said.

Beckworth said that, if all goes well, the parking spaces will be reopened by 10 a.m. next Friday and the contractor should be finished with work on Mallery Street two weeks or so before Memorial Day, May 27.

Pier Village business owners had expressed their concerns at the construction update meeting on March 13 about the work conflicting with the spring break school holiday and Easter.

“The Monday after Easter is generally a very busy day. Most people get a holiday on that Monday, so that hurts again,” Jim Barta said.

Now that it looks like the construction may stretch into mid-May, on top of a sudden boil water advisory, the merchants are even less optimistic about the project.

While he wasn’t happy to hear the news, Forrest Brown, owner of Brogan’s, said none of it was really a surprise.

“All this (infrastructure) has been neglected a long time. There was no way they were going to open it up and say ‘Hey, this is better than we expected,’” Brown said.

Jepter Butler, the owner of Iguanas Seafood, could be found after the meeting outside his restaurant on Mallery Street, directing foot traffic around the construction and to his establishment. He said any construction will be tough on business.

“It’s much-needed work. The timing is a little off,” Butler said.

There are always unknowns in construction work, he said. Some of those unknowns can create hiccups, which is what they’re experiencing now.

“For the merchants, we live and die by the tourism. Some of the shops here expect it,” Butler said.

Alleged MS-13 gang member receives 4 years for gun crimes
 wwolfe  / 

A man who allegedly became a part of the MS-13 street gang at as young as 10 years old pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court to four counts relating to illegal firearms activity.

Jose Vazquez Correa pleaded guilty to two counts of dealing firearms without a license and two counts of possession of a firearm by a prohibited person. The indictment alleged he was involved with illegally possessing and dealing at least 10 specific guns between August and November 2017. He was also accused of — but did not plead to — conspiracy and distribution charges related to the movement of cocaine hydrochloride, crack and methamphetamine.

In making an argument for a lighter sentence, defense attorney Ron Harrison said Vazquez Correa came from a Mexican neighborhood beset by narcotics, gangs and violence, and that an early age, his parents gained entry to the United States because of the threat of violence against them. However, Vazquez Correa didn’t go with them, but instead to his aunt’s residence, where he was cared for along with 14 other children.

Harrison said that by the age of five, he was associating with gang members for support. At 9 years old, he spent days in the desert to cross into the country. However, things got off-track again and he was only able to complete the 6th grade, and went back to the streets, where he began picking up his first serious criminal charges. That led to five years in a youth detention center.

Harrison said that’s not a justification, just an explanation of why Vazquez Correa was where he was presently, at 22 years old. He said Vazquez Correa got his GED in the YDC, and took classes at the local technical college in order to develop work skills.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Katelyn Semales said that while the government is sympathetic with Vazquez Correa’s childhood, he was associated with MS-13 since he was 10 years old and developed a significant criminal record since 12 years old. Also, that the firearms charges in this case involved dealings with MS-13 gang members and thereby facilitating gang activity.

U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood said that taking into account his criminal history, she was sentencing him to four years and seven months in prison. Thereafter, he’s to be turned over to immigration authorities for deportation.

In a sentencing in an unrelated matter, former Marine Austin Allen Cross received seven months in federal prison for his part in the theft of thousands of rounds of ammunition and more than 50 pounds of explosives from Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay.

Cross’ attorney, Kevin Gough, made the argument for zero prison time — he said Cross’ offenses were five years ago, and moreover, the conspiracy was underway before he got to Kings Bay and was going on after he left. Plus, Gough said, he demonstrated through the way he’s lived his life since that point that he wasn’t any kind of threat to the community who deserved prison time.

The most significant item in Cross’ favor was the U.S. Attorney’s Office classifying his cooperation with the investigation as very significant, which is a four on a scale of five. Gough said that in 26 years of work in federal court, he never had a client receive that designation. Semales said the information Cross provided led to the indictment of two other defendants involved in Kings Bay munitions theft.

Semales later noted, however, the fact Cross helped steal these munitions while serving as a Marine, and put the community at risk — a search at the reported stash house occurred after evacuating the neighboring residences — should be aggravating circumstances.

Wood’s sentencing of Cross to seven months in prison was below the low-end of the sentencing guidelines, which was 13 months. He’s also to serve three years supervised release and — jointly and severally with the other defendants in the matter — pay back the Department of the Navy for $22,825.37. Once released from prison, Cross is to make monthly payments of $150.

He was allowed an extended release of 60 days before reporting to prison, as Gough said he’s working on a Rule 35 motion for reduced sentence based on substantial assistance, for which he needs time for the other defendants’ cases to resolve.

Also pleading guilty Wednesday were two men accused of playing parts in a 18-person criminal drug conspiracy, with the lead dealer allegedly Robert Johnson of Jacksonville, Fla.

Jermaine Tyrone Fuller pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distributing 500 grams or more of cocaine and 5 grams or more of methamphetamine. While that plea carries with it a mandatory minimum of five years in prison, the amounts are lesser amounts than what he was charged with, which was 5 kilograms or more of cocaine and 50 grams or more of meth.

Scott Sapp, an officer with the Brunswick Police Department assigned to an FBI violent gang task force, testified they had two wire taps on Fuller, along with wire taps on his father and co-defendant, Michael Arthur Nixon. Sapp said that through conversations between Fuller and Johnson, and Fuller and Nixon, he conspired to distribute at least 3.39 kilos of cocaine.

Malik Williams pleaded guilty to to the conspiracy charge, but without the weights noted in Fuller’s charge. For that, he faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and at least three years supervised release.

Sapp confirmed allegations made by Mateo that the FBI had a wire tap on Nixon’s phone, and through that they became aware of Williams’ involvement, because of conversations they had about moving cocaine. Sapp said they have evidence showing Williams was involved at least with specifically 95 grams of cocaine and a number of transactions of unknown quantities.

He noted that Williams had videos and photos on social media of himself with large amounts of cash, along with marijuana, digital scales, various mobile phones and high-powered firearms.

GBI seeks help identifying woman found floating in Darien river
 tdickson  / 

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is reaching out to the public for help in identifying a woman whose body was found floating April 3 in the Darien River.

The African-American woman was estimated to be between 25 and 40 years old, was 5-feet, 4-inches tall and weighed 255 pounds, said Stacy Carson, special agent in charge of the GBI’s Kingsland office.

The GBI also released an artist’s depiction of the woman as she may have appeared before her death.

She was clothed in a black dress and her body bore a tattoo on the right forearm that reads “Dreams are Manifestations of our Identities.” The tattoo was done in a combination of Old English script and florid cursive.

Carson declined to comment on how the woman died or medical examiners’ estimates of the time of death. She said, however, that foul play has not been eliminated as the cause.

A fisherman found the body about 6 p.m. April 3 floating near Boone’s Seafood docks on the incoming tide. Darien Police Chief Donnie Howard and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources asked the GBI to assist in the investigation, and the body was sent to the GBI crime lab in Savannah where an autopsy was conducted.

Anyone with information on a woman matching the description is asked to contact the GBI at (912) 729-6198 or the Darien Police Department at 912-437-6644.

Condition of homes in low-income areas a concern
 gjackson  / 

The integrity of homes in some low-income areas of Brunswick has suffered in recent years.

Two hurricanes and other bad weather events, subpar repairs and age have weakened the city’s housing stock, according to city officials.

“The integrity of homes has worsened in the low-income pocket of the city; the conditions are crippling,” according to the wording in two contracts elected officials will consider approving at Wednesday’s city commission meeting.

The goal of the program is to preserve and protect the quality of existing homes, eradicate poor living conditions and create safe, stable housing for those living in the city.

“This enhances the city’s growth and retains character,” the grant application said.

The project is funded through a U.S. Department of Department of Housing and Urban Development Block Grant.

Work at one home will receive a $40,000 grant for repairs and renovations for the roof, plumbing, heating and air conditioning, electrical and windows.

Another contract, if approved, would pay up to $70,000 in renovations to a home. Work would include mortar replacement on brick columns on the front porch and support columns under the house, replacing and repairing all damaged structural supports and raising and leveling the floor.

Other work includes plumbing, electrical heating ventilation and air conditioning, repairing attic damage from leaking roof and repairing and painting the interior walls.

Shauntia Lewis, the city’s neighborhood revitalization manager, said eligible residents can apply for a Minor Major Home repair application at the city’s Community Development Division at City Hall or online at the city’s website.

“Eligible property owner are not required to pay for services,” Lewis said. “Funding for repairs are provided in the form of a grant.”

The city will receive $356,435 with the money spend for infrastructure and home rehabilitation programs, with a small allocation for program administration and other public services, Lewis said.

Lewis said the goal is to help repair 10 homes this year. Brunswick is considered an Entitlement Community and the grant request is submitted to HUD in the form of an annual action plan that proposed activities for the year.

“Low-income homeowners in the city are experiencing poor living conditions and are in dire need of assistance,” Lewis said. “Living conditions for many homeowners are not ideal. These low-income homeowners need home repairs, plumbing and electric due to time and deterioration of the home.”