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Larry Hobbs/The Brunswick News 

Bob Brown lived up to the Dart family name with a prolific career building ships in Brunswick.

School system unveils preliminary plans for new Altama Elementary
 lmcdonald  / 

The good news is that the new Altama Elementary School will have many more restroom facilities than the current school offers.

The number and widespread placement of bathrooms in a brand new, state-of the art, 100,000-square-foot elementary school may not some like the biggest highlight to all, but that feature in the construction plans drew the loudest cheers from school staff Thursday.

School administrators and the project’s architects unveiled preliminary drawings of the new school plans at a Leadership Listens session at Altama Elementary on Thursday afternoon.

Construction on the new school should take about 18 months, said Virgil Cole, superintendent of Glynn County Schools. The work could potentially be complete by December 2020. The new facility, to be located at 6045 Altama Ave., will replace one of the oldest school buildings in the school district.

“Today I did sign the closing to the property,” Cole said. “… We’re excited about that. It’s going to be a great school. It’s going to be an asset to this community. Again, we couldn’t be more excited.”

The new school’s site is much larger than that on which the current school is located, said John Tuten, lead architect on the project.

A bus loop will go around the school, and the parking lot will include about 120 spaces.

There will be a play area about the size of a football field.

“Meeting with the staff, we determined that they wanted a K-1 wing at the top here and the individual play area for the younger children,” Tuten said. “The building is about 100,000 square feet. It’s got a PE facility the size of the new Burroughs-Molette (Elementary), which would be similar to Sterling Elementary School.”

The administrative offices are to be placed across the front of the facility, Tuten said, and a courtyard in the center will allow natural light into part of the school.

The school wings will house two grades each.

And, best of all, every kindergarten and first grade classroom will have two individual toilets that can be accessed from within the room. The teachers and staff applauded this news, as well as the plans for adult restrooms in every wing.

“We don’t want anybody waiting in line too long,” said Brock Tobaben, one of the project architects.

The Glynn County Board of Education previously planned to build the new school on the current school property but changed that plan when the community came forward with worries that the adjacent Superfund site made the property unfit for a school.

Critics of that plan have since commended the school board for responding and changing track. Rachael Thompson, project manager for the Glynn Environmental Coalition and one of those who spoke out against building the new school next to a Superfund site, applauded the new plan in an email to school system leadership Thursday evening.

“We are grateful for all your hard work in selecting the new site and also appreciate your mindfulness in placing the school away from the adjacent wetlands on the new site,” Thompson said.

Shutdown impacting local businesses
 gjackson  / 

In the three weeks since the partial government shutdown, Tanya Sergey, owner of A Moveable Feast, said she has lost half the business she normally sees.

She estimates half the business at her restaurant is from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Brunswick. And most of the FLETC customers were instructors, administrators and contractors.

“It’s definitely having an impact on us,” she said. “It affects everyone from me, the owner, to the dishwasher.”

While she can order less food during the slowdown, there are fixed costs she will have to pay regardless of the circumstances.

“We’re dipping into our savings now,” she said. “My rent is still the same. My utilities are still the same. My insurance is still the same.”

Sergey said she hasn’t had to lay off any employees, but she has had to send staff home early because business has been so slow.

“My employees still have to pay the rent,” she said.

When the shutdown ends, Sergey said her business will return after employees get their paychecks. But contractors will never be able to recover from their losses.

Bruce Dixon, owner of the Holiday Inn and Fairfield Inn Mariott in Brunswick, said he has lost business as a result of the shutdown. Some FLETC trainees stay at his motels but the cancellation of some classes has affected his business.

“It reduces our occupancy rates some,” he said. “We have all been affected some by that.”

Luckily, Dixon said he still has enough business from tourists and Interstate 95 to stay afloat and not have to layoff employees or cut their hours.

The good news is once the shutdown ends, Dixon said the cancelled classes will be rescheduled.

“We think it will come back after the government reopens,” he said. “We’ll recover most of it, but we’ll never recover 100 percent of it.”

Gaila Brandon, owner of the Riverview Hotel in St. Marys, said the shutdown may have caused permanent harm to the business that has been in the family for more than 100 years. Her business is dependent on the tourists who visit Cumberland Island National Seashore, which has been closed since the shutdown.

“It’s been devastating,” she said. “Business has always been steady over the holidays. It’s crippled our business.”

Some people with reservations at the hotel were not aware the national seashore is closed after driving hundreds of miles. Brandon said they cancelled their reservations once they learned they could not visit the island.

“There’s nobody here in the hotel,” she said. “It’s a ghost town.”

The loss of business has also hurt the hotel’s staff.

“I’ve had to lay off every full-time employee except one,” she said. “It puts them in a spiraling downfall.”

One of the laid off workers has already found a new job, meaning Brandon will have to hire at least one new employee when the shutdown ends — if her business survives.

She said her business was still recovering from hurricanes Matthew and Irma. The shutdown has forced her to cut expenses drastically, including canceling her health insurance and other personal expenditures.

“I don’t see any way out of this,” she said. “We can’t pay our taxes. I’m out of operating expenses. I just don’t know what else to do.”

Brandon said her business has played a big role in the economy in downtown St. Marys for decades and it could end because of the political battle over funding of a border wall.

“It’s stressful and unnecessary,” she said. “The tourism dollars lost could have paid for that stupid wall.”

A basketball with a dark background on a hardwood gym floor

Federal seismic testing lawsuit bustles
 wwolfe  / 

While the offshore drilling lawsuit in a South Carolina federal court may be stayed, activity has yet to cease, catalyzed Monday by the S.C. Attorney General’s Office filing a motion to intervene as a plaintiff in the suit, of which Georgia group One Hundred Miles is one of the original plaintiffs.

Tuesday, attorneys for the federal government filed a motion to stay the deadline of the defendants’ response to South Carolina’s motion to intervene. As reported previously, Justice Department attorneys in civil matters — along with staff at other federal agencies in the executive branch — had their funding cut off Dec. 21, at the beginning of the partial government shutdown.

The law governing these lapses in funding ban staff from working even in a volunteer capacity, unless there are emergency situations involving human life or protection of property. As with similar stay motions, the government attorneys ask for it to be in effect until the restoration of funding to the Justice Department.

South Carolina filed a response the same day opposing a stay of the deadline on its motion to intervene. Attorneys for the state wrote that in an email between parties, DOJ attorney Alison Finnegan wrote “she does ‘not have any information about whether the lapse in appropriations will impact Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s decision-making on the pending permit applications’ at issue.”

So, South Carolina’s attorneys argue, “without assurance that the BOEM will not act during the time for this stay and any time for response running after the stay is lifted, the state’s interests could be adversely impacted during a stay should BOEM proceed to act.

“Should any motion for a preliminary injunction or a temporary restraining order be filed during the stay, the attorney general would want to be heard for the state. Moreover, even if the federal defendants are not able to respond to the motion to intervene, they would still be able to raise any defenses that they believe that they have to the state’s complaint via an appropriate motions or answer if this court grants the motion to intervene.”

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Gergel issued an order Thursday naming Jan. 15 as the deadline to file a reply to South Carolina’s response. He also ordered the federal defendants to respond to the state’s argument that BOEM could issue a decision on the pending permit applications during a stay, if the stay was granted.

Also of concern in the case is the matter of the proposed industry intervenors — a group of entities chiefly comprised of the companies awarded seismic testing permits, along with the International Association of Geophysical Contractors and the American Petroleum Institute.

The only objection to their proposed intervening is by the plaintiff municipalities, which are a group of South Carolina cities and towns that filed a similar lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in order to block the seismic testing. That lawsuit merged with this one Dec. 28.

The municipalities filed a response Jan. 4 opposing API’s presence in the case. They argue API “does not have a practical interest that will not be adequately represented by other parties,” citing a rule of civil procedure that claims a “proposed intervenor of right must have a ‘practical’ relationship between their claimed interest and the subject of the action.”

The response continues, “API lobbies for the oil industry, spending between ($5-10 million) per year over the past decade to promote their interests. API’s lobbying efforts include producing ‘reports’ that reflect unrealistic and falsely inflated figures for how offshore oil drilling would impact the economy.”

The municipalities conclude by arguing that, between API’s factual misrepresentations and lack of ability to provide added value to an already complex case, it should not be allowed to intervene.

The proposed industry intervenors, in their filing Friday, called the municipalities’ opposition baseless.

“The municipalities provide only half-hearted, unexplained and incorrect arguments in response to the merits of the motion to intervene,” according to the proposed industry intervenors’ response. “They fail to cite a single case and fail to submit any relevant evidence to rebut the sworn declaration of (API Vice President of Upstream and Industry Operations) Erik Milito in support of API’s intervention.

“Instead, the bulk of the municipalities’ response is focused on their opposition to a 2013 report by Quest Offshore commissioned — in part — by API regarding the potential economic benefits of offshore oil and gas development on the Atlantic Coast.”

Gergel had yet to issue a ruling on the municipalities-API dispute as of mid-afternoon Friday.