Area Eyes Path to Growth

The Brunswick News November 6, 2004 - "Area Eyes Path to Growth"

Although the following is an important first step in considering growth rates and implications for our region, it was disappointing to see that critical environmental issues were neglected in the article. In this article, the reporter chose to focus on infrastructure and taxing issues instead of the growth implications for natural resources. I am hoping to convince News reporters to augment this article with a follow-up on related environmental issues.
Note also that the number of building permits quoted (10,500) is significantly lower than the number of "residential units" represented, since duplexes and apartment buildings receive only one permit each. For the same period (1999 - 2001), the number of housing units was 12,774.
The Executive Summary of our State of the Coast Report is on this website. Please call or email the Center if you'd like to discuss these issues.

David Kyler, Executive Director
The Center For A Sustainable Coast
November 06, 2004 By David Royer - The Brunswick News

David Kyler crunched the numbers on population growth along Georgia's coast and was astonished at what he found.

By the time today's children leave college, population in the 11 Georgia counties studied by his non-profit environmental organization, the Center for a Sustainable Coast, will top 1 million, nearly 200,000 more than the current population of Atlanta's home county of Fulton.

Glynn, McIntosh, Camden, Brantley, Bryan, Charlton, Chatham, Effingham, Liberty, Long and Wayne counties are growing at a rate of about 20 percent per decade, Kyler said. Building permits for some 10,500 new homes and apartments were issued in this 11-county region between 1999 and 2001, the most recent years for which data is available.

Today coastal Georgia, called by some the last frontier for undeveloped land on the East Coast, is the fastest-growing region outside of Atlanta, in the fastest-growing state east of the Mississippi River.

"What this means is a much greater burden on facilities and infrastructure," said Kyler, executive director of the St. Simons Island-based center. More people mean more demand on water and sewer systems, and police and fire departments, services typically provided by local governments.

"If taxes can't get these facilities in place in time to meet this're going to end up with a crisis situation of one kind or another," Kyler said.

In the face of this looming threat, local governments along the coast are taking different approaches to lay the foundations for growth.

Officials in Camden County, which has seen its population jump from 36,925 in 1992 to 44,702 in 2002, are not ashamed to say they are aggressively pro-growth.

But the county stands out more for what it doesn't have - namely, any water or sewer systems outside incorporated areas.

Water access is handled by an outside contractor, Woodrow Sapp. Lately, developers are even being asked to chip in their share for some essential services.

The developers of Sanctuary Cove, a 750-lot subdivision and golf course near Dover Bluff, are building a new fire station nearby to serve the subdivision and surrounding area at the request of the county. The arrangement will save Camden County $500,000 in construction costs.

The public-private partnership is a model that works well for Camden County, which currently has 2,000 residential lots approved for development in the north end of the county, said county manager and planning and building director Charles Akridge.

"We don't have any overhead," Akridge said. By farming out services to private companies, the small county was, in effect, "achieving an economy of scale."

Camden County could begin providing some services in the future, but for now, it is content to let private companies with more money and expertise handle the jobs, he said.

In Glynn County, which currently supplies urban services to much of the county, the only impediment to growth may be the maintenance of its existing water and sewer lines.

The county's population rose from 63,608 to 69,039 between 1992 and 2002, but some of the water lines in use today are temporary lines installed by the U.S. Navy 50 years ago.

County commissioners are spending millions over the next few years to upgrade sewer lines in the south end of the county, increase water pressure in the north end and replace clogged, cracked pipes that run under St. Simons Island.

Thursday, commissioners moved closer to developing a master plan that will guide maintenance and expansion for water and sewer systems on St. Simons Island to accommodate the growth expected there.

But growth may be slow in coming to more remote areas like Everett City, in the northwest corner of the county, where residents still depend on well water and septic tanks, said county administrator Charley Stewart.

With so much attention focused on the islands and the areas surrounding the city of Brunswick, it could be years before the county runs services out that far.

"There's many pockets in the mainland we're not going to get to for ages, I'm sure," Stewart said.

In 1999, the county contracted the management of its water and sewer services to an outside contractor, American Water Services, in an effort to save money by outsourcing.

But the public-private relationship has been a rockier road in Glynn County than in Camden. Commissioners have been gradually severing their relationship with American Water after a series of billing and management problems erupted this year.

Even tiny McIntosh County, which boasts that it still does not have a stop light in the county, is going through its own population boom, experiencing a rise from 9,027 to 11,150 between 1992 and 2002.

With relatively high-end golf communities and waterfront developments moving into the area, the small-town mentality is slowly changing, said Frank Lunsford, chair of the county's planning commission.

In order to make itself ready for growth, Lunsford said, the county has updated its master plan and is reviewing its ordinances to make sure they are up to date.

"We are in the process of making sure our ordinances are in line with the development that's coming," he said.

Like the county's larger neighbors to the south, Glynn and Camden counties, McIntosh County is working to make sure it will be ready for the day when the coastal population edges toward 1 million.

"I would say we're a sleepy little community that's waking up," Lunsford said, describing a situation that could apply not just in McIntosh county, but in all of Georgia's coastal counties.
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