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Commissioners discuss over-budget animal control shelter plans
 tcooper  / 

Special-purpose, local-option sales tax-related discussions dominated the Glynn County Commission’s work session Tuesday.

A new animal control shelter planned for the back corner of the county’s public safety complex off the Ga. 25 Spur has been on the back burner for a while, which is why Public Works Director Dave Austin sought direction from the commission on how to proceed.

“What we need is an azimuth check. Typically in the military, an azimuth check is, you tell me which direction you want me to move out in,” Austin said.

In SPLOST 2016, the commission set aside $1.5 million for a new animal control facility. After paying an architect — Ussery Rule Architects — to design a new shelter, $1.33 million is left. The architect’s design is estimated to cost $2-2.5 million, depending on how much fat is shaved off.

Building the proposed shelter out as designed would cost an estimated $2.5 million. By changing some construction materials and building half of the dog kennels, the cost could be reduced to $2 million.

Austin presented the commission with some options: build the structure as-is and close the funding gap with money from another source, build a set of additions designed by former Glynn County Police Chief Matt Doering and architect James Kent onto the current shelter, or build the new office building in Ussery’s plans at the current animal control shelter and continue to use the existing dog kennels.

Commissioner Mike Browning asked Animal Control Manager Tiffani Hill for her opinion.

“Option one would be an ideal way to go, but if we can’t build both kennel buildings then we will significantly cut the capacity of the shelter to a point where it’s not really doable ... If we went with option two, which is the Kent building, I can tell you, in all honesty, I don’t think that is the best use of county resources to accomplish our goal at the shelter. It, in some ways, would actually be less efficient and effective for us than the shelter we have now, which has many issues to it,” Hill said.

When asked about the third option, Hill said the office structure is well-designed and would suit animal control’s needs, however, the shelter has many issues with flooding, plumbing and its current dog kennel building.

“The kennel structure needs to be, at the very least, resurfaced on the inside on the walls and floors and also at this point in time, there are some challenges with the way the kenneling is connected to the concrete. The screws are failing so the dogs are now able to push out the fencing and escape which is, of course, a significant risk management issue for the county,” Hill said.

Browning said Austin has some ideas for dealing with flooding, but Hill spoke to the plumbing problems, saying they’re costing the county money.

Commissioner Bob Coleman took issue with proposals to build onto the existing animal control shelter. He said the commission told the public they would get a new shelter, and it needs to deliver on that.

Browning asked whether or not the county was obligated to build a new shelter, to which County Attorney Aaron Mumford responded that the SPLOST 2016 referendum was worded in such a way that the county didn’t need to actually construct a new building.

Commissioner Allen Booker backed Coleman up, saying the county should deliver on what it told the public.

If the $2.5 million was just an estimate, Commissioner Wayne Neal asked why they didn’t just put the project out to bid and get “real numbers” from contractors.

Austin said he doubted many local contractors would submit bids if they believed the county couldn’t actually pay for it.

Browning agreed, saying he didn’t want to waste contractors’ time.

Booker suggested paying for the money out of the county’s pocket and reimbursing itself with SPLOST 2020 revenue.

The county could do that, or could issue bonds to cover the cost and use SPLOST revenue to pay off the bonds, Mumford said.

Ultimately, the commission decided to hold off on making a formal decision to give Mumford time to prepare a list of funding options.

Hill reiterated that only building part of the new facility won’t really accomplish anything, but said animal control is struggling with the current shelter.

“We do feel like we’re holding the current facility together with bubble gum and duct tape, so we do need some help,” Hill said.

In other business, the commission heard an update on SPLOST-funded improvements to the Altama Connector from the intersection at the Home Depot to the intersection at the Scranton Connector. Plans for this project came in under budget, said Public Works Roads and Drainage Division Manager Ben Pierce.

Traffic engineers with engineering firm Pond and Company presented a set of drawings showing, in their opinion, the best way to unclog traffic around the Spur intersection with the space and money available.

Engineer Kevin Skinner started with the intersection between SunTrust Bank and Burger King. Using concrete islands, he recommended restricting motorists exiting onto the Altama Connector from turning across traffic.

It would mean they may have to travel down the connector and pull a u-turn to go the other way, he said.

At the spur intersection, Skinner recommended new lanes on each side — a dedicated left turn lane on the eastbound side and a second through lane on the westbound. The westbound side would have to be widened to accommodate a new right turn lane.

Turning across traffic directly into Captain D’s, Arby’s and Wendy’s would be prohibited by concrete islands, he said. He recommended adding turn lanes for motorists turning across traffic onto Merchants Way and the road between Wendy’s and Nalley Honda of Brunswick.

Further along, he recommended turn lanes on the eastbound side of the connector into Walmart’s parking lot, among other changes.

Commissioners weren’t too fond of the plan but felt it was the best they could do with what they had. Pierce asked for the commission to give him the go-ahead to begin buying right-of-ways and applying for Georgia Department of Transportation permits.

Browning told him he had it.

Commissioners also talked about a planned SPLOST 2020 referendum.

Most commissioners were in favor of holding the referendum during the May 2020 general primary.

If approved, there would be no break between the end of SPLOST 2016 collection and the beginning of SPLOST 2020 collection. Browning pointed out that, if the county waited until the November 2020 general election, businesses would have to stop collecting the tax and then start again later. Some commissioners feared it would pose a hardship for local businesses.

A discussion of a proposed lease with the St. Simons Boating and Fishing Club for the St. Simons Island Marina was tabled, as Commissioner Peter Murphy was absent and he was the most knowledgable on the subject.

The commission’s next regular meeting is scheduled for tomorrow at 6 p.m in the Old Glynn County Courthouse, 701 G St. in Brunswick.

County takes action on Neptune Park trees
 tcooper  / 

After months of discussion, two historic oak trees in Neptune Park on St. Simons Island are getting a trim.

The two trees, named after freed slaves Neptune and Ila Small, dropped heavy limbs three times in 2018, one breaking one of the concrete picnic tables underneath.

In September, the Glynn County Commission decided it posed enough of a safety hazard to warrant cordoning off the picnic area.

The county sought the opinions of four arborists, eventually settling on a solution offered by Daniel Lippi, a master arborist with Advanced Tree Care of St. Augustine.

While other arborists suggested either cutting the trees down or fencing off the trees and moving the picnic area, Lippi said the problem could be solved with some pruning — a 25 percent reduction in the trees’ canopies and some crutches for select low-hanging limbs.

Glynn County contractors started trimming the trees Tuesday. Lippi worked with Jones Maintenance Company, the county’s tree care provider, to point out the limbs that needed to be trimmed or cut off entirely.

“My analysis is more structural than health-related,” Lippi said. “Worry about the structure of the tree now, the health comes later.”

Trees are subject to mechanical forces just like anything else, Lippi explained at a county commission work session earlier this month. In the case of the Neptune Park trees, the real issue has less to do with the trees’ health than it does the weight they’re supporting.

“All trees, every single species on this planet, will get too big for itself because they keep adding and keep adding and keep adding and eventually you get too much weight and too much circumferential mass that the trees can’t support themselves,” Lippi said at the meeting. “They start to shed and break apart. All trees do this. Live oaks do it a lot because instead of growing vertically, they tend to grow laterally.”

Tuesday morning, Lippi said his goal for the Neptune trees is to reduce the weight they’re supporting while preserving as many leaves as possible.

“We want to make cuts that are going to actually change the mechanics of the trees, there is no point if it doesn’t change anything,” Lippi said.

Andy Jones, the owner of Jones Maintenance, said he was concerned a 25 percent reduction in the canopy would “shock them to death,” but Lippi wasn’t too concerned.

“Twenty-five percent is not a lot. We are not going to shock this tree to death. If we don’t do anything, it will continue tearing itself apart,” Lippi said.

He didn’t want to take 25 percent off all at once, either. County contractors plan to trim half of the 25 percent off this week and come back eight to 12 months later for the rest.

When exactly the picnic area will be reopened is still up in the air, said Public Works Director Dave Austin. Some area may be reopened soon while others remain roped off until they’re considered safe.

“When (Lippi) tells me the stuff that needs to be crutched is crutched and the limbs that need to be clipped are clipped and he gives me the OK, then we’ll open it,” Austin said.

All in all, Lippi was optimistic about the trees’ futures.

“I got asked this by commissioners and people, ‘Hey we climbed on these limbs, we grew up on these limbs, can kids climb on these limbs again?’ And the answer to that is yes, but we have to support them,” Lippi said. “... These are not trees that should be condemned. We’ve worked on trees in much worse shape. We stabilized them, and they’re fine.”

Judge declares 1982 Twitty Park land swap void, park reverts to county ownership
 tcooper  / 

Glynn County had no right to give Twitty Park to the Sea Island Co. as part of a land swap in 1982 and as such the deed reverts back to the county, a Glynn County Superior Court judge ruled Monday.

The decision is in response to a 2016 case between plaintiffs Glynn Environmental Coalition and county resident Jane Fraser and defendants the Sea Island Co., Glynn County and unnamed individuals. The GEC and Fraser alleged the county didn’t have the right to covey the property to the Sea Island Co., and Judge Stephen Kelley agreed.

Late businessman T.L. Cain left the property to Glynn County in 1924, expressly stating that it be used as a park and a right-of-way for a road to Sea Island. Should the county violate the terms of the will, ownership of the park would revert to Cain’s heirs.

According to Kelley’s decision, the county conveyed the park to the Sea Island Co. in 1982 as part of a land swap.

“At the heart of this case is a single question of law: did the county have the authority to convey Twitty Park — a park accepted by the county with a right of reverter to T.L. Cain, dedicated to public use and which had not been abandoned by the public — to (the Sea Island Co.) in 1982?” Kelley asked in his decision.

While the restrictions — that it be used as a park or right of way — remained in the deed after the land swap, the court determined them to be effectively unenforceable by all but Cain’s heirs, undermining the public trust doctrine.

“The continued survival of the reversionary interest arguably provides Cain’s successors-in-interest the ability to seek enforcement thereof should the property cease to be used as a public park. When the property was conveyed by the county to (the Sea Island Co.), however, the public lost the only vehicle available to it to seek enforcement of the use restriction imposed by Cain.

“That right is given by the protection afforded by the public trust doctrine, and there is no legal authority suggesting the public trust doctrine would apply against a private entity,” Kelly wrote.

As no law at the time or any enacted since would allow the county to transfer the park, Kelley declared that ownership of the park should revert from the Sea Island Co. back to the county.

“As such, the deed to Twitty Park from the county to (the Sea Island Co.) is hereby rendered void and title to Twitty Park reverts to the county under the terms of the original Cain deed,” the decision states.

While Kelly determined that the county shouldn’t have swapped the park to begin with, he disagreed with the GEC and Fraser on the matter of Sea Island Road.

At one point, Sea Island Road forked around Twitty Park. It was later rebuilt to its current configuration, running down the park’s middle.

“The Cain deed did not require that the right-of-way to Sea Island in place in 1924 be maintained unaltered in perpetuity. Rather, it required only that the property be used as a right of way to Sea Island and a public park,” according to the decision.

Kelley similarly dismissed the claim that the county should have used park land to expand Frederica Road at its intersection with Sea Island Road.

Glynn County Attorney Aaron Mumford declined to say whether or not the county or Sea Island intend to appeal the decision, but Fraser said she hopes they won’t.

“If their own tax dollars are used against them to refuse ownership of a park that was given to them in 1924, I think that would really be shocking,” Fraser said.

GEC leadership, meanwhile, said the decision upholds their stance and “Twitty Park is worth protecting.”

“We are extremely grateful for the court’s decision to maintain Twitty Park as a public park, to be held in the public trust for Glynn County citizens and visitors of St. Simons Island,” GEC President Pamela Tillman said.

Fraser said she and the GEC pursued this case on behalf of Cain’s heirs, who wanted the park protected.

“We’re pretty excited about this,” Fraser said Tuesday. “I think it’s a huge victory for the citizens of Glynn County, I think it’s a victory for the memory of T.L. Cain — who owned all the land all the way to the Atlantic Ocean and was very generous to the community — and, importantly, I think it’s a victory for the public trust doctrine. The public trust doctrine is what the public can rely on to make sure their gifts to the public remain for the public’s use.”

In pursuing the case, she said it took a year to track down all the heirs who held interest in the park. Each heir signed their interest over to the GEC and Fraser, she said, as each wanted to make sure the park remained dedicated to the public.

“I spoke with the family members, and they’re thrilled with the result. They were glad we were tackling this on behalf of the family,” Fraser said. “Each of them were interesting and each of them wanted this property to be protected. That’s unusual, that each heir wanted protection for the park.”

Bill would unify national heritage areas
 wwolfe  / 

There are 55 national heritage areas in the United States, including the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, which runs through Coastal Georgia. A U.S. House subcommittee met Tuesday to hear about the possibility of bringing those entities under one structure, and whether the federal government should stop funding them.

The House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands heard about several several NHA bills, though the one establishing a national heritage area program is under U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko’s House Resolution 1049.

“Although the (National) Park Service requested that we zero-out funding for heritage areas during this administration, Congress has continued to fund this successful program, allowing NHAs to remain beneficial to our local communities and their economies,” said U.S. Rep. Debra Haaland, D-N.M. and subcommittee chairwoman. “These sites promote cultural heritage tourism, injecting $192 billion into the U.S. economy each year.”

H.R. 1049 would standardize the administration of NHAs, which the bill’s sponsors hope provides consistency in management and accountability.

“These sites do more than just deliver a significant economic return — they help reveal the diverse, and sometimes hidden, gems of our cultural heritage and fill us with a sense of place that brings our complex history to life,” Haaland said. “National heritage areas are special places that have played important roles in shaping our nation and that tell the stories of the people and communities and regions whose pioneer spirit laid the foundation of our society.”

There’s some disagreement about the ratio, but Democratic subcommittee members said that for every one dollar of federal funds, it’s met with $5.50 in other public and private money.

Daniel Smith, deputy director of the National Park Service, testified that the Interior Department pegs the ratio at one federal dollar to every 3 non-federal dollars, but regardless, he said it’s the will of the department for NHAs to go on their own without federal support. Three other bills before the subcommittee extend funding for specific NHAs.

“The department does not support extending authorities for individual national heritage areas to receive funding, as H.R. 642, H.R. 1990 and H.R. 2288 would do,” Smith said. “As the administration has proposed no funding for national heritage areas, in fiscal year 2020, in order to focus our resources on addressing the National Park Service’s $11.9 billion deferred maintenance backlog, and other critical National Park Service needs.”

U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said when Congress created NHAs in 1984, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee stated the intention of federal funding was to get these NHAs up and working, but that eventually federal funding would end as the NHAs became sustainable. According to statements made Tuesday, federal dollars have continued going to NHAs in the past 35 years, regardless of the times they were founded.

Smith said leadership at Interior believe the way to wean NHAs off federal money is going cold turkey — members of Congress, through the appropriations process, cut off funding.

Sara Capen, chairwoman of the Alliance of National Heritage Areas and executive director of the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area, testified that having the backing of the National Park Service is one of the things that both encourages tourism and helps negotiate agreements for private funding.

“We feel that the 55 national heritage areas represent 55 diverse communities that need long-term commitments from the federal government, that we match,” Capen said. “It is an investment, like Rep. Tonko said, that we continue to match. But, more importantly, because we represent the National Park Service, and have the National Park Service name attached to us, that tells the significance of a place, and when you remove the funding, or you sunset the program, it’s basically telling communities, and these three here — National Coal, Erie Canalway, National Aviation — that those stories and that place is not nationally significant.

“And that’s a critical piece of the entire issue — that National Park Service brand brings forth a reputation and a strength that brings partners to the table that continues to allow us to leverage that funding.”

Congressional climate crisis committee ponders way forward
 wwolfe  / 

The threats posed by climate change aren’t going to go away simply by wishing they would, and so the U.S. House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis met Tuesday to hear from experts discuss possible paths to take to head off problems worsening.

Diana Liverman, a professor at the University of Arizona, spent most of the past 40 years on what could happen if the world’s human population doesn’t rein in warming that’s higher than the global average. She said that right now, we’ve seen the onset of warming of more than 1 C — 1.8 F — and the trend shows eventually rising more than 3 C, or 5.4 F.

Liverman said global warming is likely to hit 1.5 C between 2030 and 2052 — warming is guaranteed because greenhouse gases remain in the atmosphere for decades, and oceans store heat for decades. However, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report — of which Liverman was the lead author, nominated by the federal government, for one of the chapters — that shows the possibility of limiting warming to 1.5 C.

“The IPCC found significant differences in climate and impacts between 1.5 C and 2 C — that’s 2.7 and 3.6 F,” Liverman said. “For example, sea-level rise by 2100 would be 6 inches more at 2 degrees, with added risks if ice sheets become more unstable. Even a few inches of sea-level rise increase the risks of coastal flooding, salt water intrusion and damage to infrastructure. The loss of habitat for many insects, plants and animals doubles even with that extra half degree. Fire risk is higher and fisheries are more disturbed.”

She said adaption is possible and less costly to halt warming at 1.5 C than it would take later — those both in the public and private sectors are already making adaptations that are costlier than if societies addressed the issue earlier.

Liverman said the goal should be to cut emissions in half by 2030 and get to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

With Liverman laying the foundation of the challenge ahead, the other three panelists discussed ways forward.

U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-1, put his questions to Christopher Guith, acting president of the Global Energy Institute, which is an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Carter asked, “You mentioned a number of private-sector businesses that are already making investments in their own right to fight climate change — can you talk just a little bit about that, and maybe just a few examples?”

Guith responded, “In my written testimony, I highlighted a couple of specific projects that I think are emblematic of what U.S. business has been doing over the last decade, and we feature these in our EnergyInnovates program. The most recent one … module we just put on our website last week, was San Diego Gas & Electric who constructed what was at the time the world’s largest stationary storage facility. It’s been now surpassed by one in Australia, but I’m sure there will be a race to the top to see who can make the most efficient and, frankly, largest dispatchable battery.

“Advanced reactor at NuScale — it’s a small-module reactor, it’s a revolutionary design that can be used globally and at places where you wouldn’t necessarily put a large-scale reactor, like what we use right now. And then one that is incredibly important, just outside of Houston, Texas, a project being built by a consortium of companies that stands to be the first zero-emissions natural gas plant that would be competitive with an off-the-shelf natural gas plant.”

Dispatchable energy is a source of power that can be turned on or off and adjust power to the electrical grid on demand.

While there remains a notable amount of American-generated carbon emissions sticking around from prior decades, concerns were raised in committee about China’s carbon emissions, and what can be done to influence that nation to make significant steps toward reducing its impact. Carter asked Guith what role the business community has in that discussion.

“It’s a great economic opportunity,” Guith said. “The reality is the emissions from developing countries, and whether you consider China one or not, are going to continue to rise. And unless we or someone else bring the technologies to bear that are scalable, to the extent that we’re talking about globally — we’re not talking about a single state or a single community in this country, where resources are relatively accessible, we’re talking about scalable globally, they’re going to keep burning coal. So, unless we have a way to capture the emissions from that, we’re going to continue to be at a net-negative as far as reductions.”David Foster, a distinguished associate at the Energy Futures Initiative, which is a low-carbon think tank, said there’s a lot to celebrate in the past decade about how as a nation, the people of the United States have moved to become more energy efficient. Still, though, as a society we’re missing out on goals that could have been met. Foster said the skills shortage in the workforce is at a critical level.

“In 2017, energy efficiency construction employers projected hiring at 10.6 percent, or over 120,000 new jobs,” Foster said. “But, the reality of hiring difficulty got in the way and they added only 21,000 jobs in 2018. This was a failure of our workforce development system with very real-world consequences. From the environmental perspective, millions of tons of CO2 went into the atmosphere that could have been prevented. But from the human perspective, this represented over 100,000 families that could’ve entered the middle class with some of the best-paying jobs in America.”

The nearly two-hour committee meeting can be viewed at