The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

Quick notes from The Current staff about the ebb and flow of news, what we’re seeing and what washes in that’s probably not a giant story but interesting enough to muse about.

  • The Tide: Presentation shows segregated history of Savannah facilities, parks

    The City of Savannah’s Municipal Archives is a massive trove of history. And this week, in partnership with Georgia Southern University, it posted a new online exhibit “Jim Crow in Savannah’s Parks,” examining how Savannah denied Black people access to the best public parks and recreational facilities — and how Black taxpayers paid for a superior park system for whites.

    The multimedia work was prepared by Jeffrey M. Ofgang, an intern with the City of Savannah’s Municipal Archives who now holds a Public History Graduate Certificate from Georgia Southern University. The exhibit utilizes the city archives to show how segregation manifested in planning documents, news stories, city code, meetings and engineering department work for parks, playgrounds, pools, sports, and cemeteries. Hosted by GSU University Libraries, the exhibit can be accessed at https://georgiasouthern.libguides.com/savannahparks.

    It’s fairly common to hear long-timers say Savannah had a progressive reputation when it comes to segregation, having avoided violent reactions to integration. And historians have noted that, as well. However, these documents make it clear that racial segregation was codified and intentional. Take something as straightforward as park benches. City officials ordered them moved to stop Black people from enjoying them. Planning documents also show that park and recreational facilities like Grayson Stadium, the home of Savannah’s minor league baseball team where greats such as Babe Ruth played, were designed and engineered for segregation.

    The historic journey shows official change arrived only after public action through economic boycotts and the ballot box.

    https://youtu.be/WT3-25oVS14
    A companion “Hungry for History” talk is available online at https://youtu.be/WT3-25oVS14.

    The Tide brings news and observations from The Current’s staff.

  • Tybee bans beach smoking

    Tybee City Council on Thursday passed an ordinance to prohibit smoking on the island’s beaches beginning June 1.

    The measure passed by a 4-3 vote, as expected. More than half a dozen in the audience who wore white t-shirts identifying each as a “Tybee clean beach volunteer” cheered at the passage. However, as Mayor Shirley Sessions cast her tie-breaking vote, another man seated in the front row shouted expletives and stormed out of the meeting.

    Cigarette butts are the most common item littered on beaches not just on Tybee, but all over, the Ocean Conservancy reports. Their filters are typically plastic and pose a threat to birds and sea life that mistake them for food. At the first reading of the ordinance in April, members of the anti-litter group Fight Dirty Tybee demonstrated the extent of the problem with 5-gallon buckets full of cigarette butts they collected from beach sweeps.

    Several Charleston-area beaches have banned smoking but Tybee is the first in Georgia to do so.

    Tybee won’t issue fines at first, at the suggestion of City Council Member Monty Parks.

    “I’d like to amend any motion made to be that this would be effective June 1, to allow staff and the city time to get signage together,” he said. “And that for the first three weeks, we issue warnings, instead of coming down like thunder.”

    The ordinance doesn’t specify a fine, but Tybee’s web site indicates all beach related fines are $300, including smoking or vaping in the current no-smoking area on the beach between 14th and 16th streets.

    Included in the ban are e-cigarettes.

    “It shall be unlawful for any person to smoke, vape or use tobacco or related products on
    any beach on Tybee Island,” the ordinance reads. “This prohibition on smoking, vaping or using tobacco or related products extends into the ocean and includes all crosswalks to the beach as well as the pier.”

    With litter from cigarette butts the main concern with beach smoking, Council Member Barry Brown asked why vaping was included.

    Councilman Brian West explained that the vaping devices have small parts including caps.

    “They have little battery packs,” West said. “The stick itself can be left behind; they can forget they had it,” he said. “So there are loads of little pieces of plastic and I understanding Clean Beach picks up a lot of those as well.”

  • The Tide: Camden leader job hunts in Florida without spaceport on his resume

    Camden County Administrator and Spaceport Camden Project Leader Steve Howard is job hunting in Florida as the spaceport’s viability is being litigated.

    The Naples Daily News last week named Howard as one of seven finalists for the position of Collier County manager, a position the south Florida county expects to fill by July 1.

    Camden County has spent $11 million and more than seven years on its plans to develop a spaceport on a former industrial site owned by Union Carbide. In December the project reached a milestone when the Federal Aviation Administration issued a Launch Site Operator’s License for Spaceport Camden. 

    But legal limbo followed. In March, voters in a special referendum rejected the land purchase by nearly 3 to 1 margin. County officials, including Howard, say the referendum was illegal. The state Supreme Court is expected to take up the matter this summer. In the meantime the county is moving forward with the purchase against the expressed wishes of the voters.

    An open records request to Collier County revealed that Howard did not mention Spaceport Camden on the five-page resume or accompanying cover letter he submitted March 27, 2022. Howard has been the county administrator in Camden since 2007. He was named as spaceport project leader in 2014.

    “In summary I am a motivated professional who offers you a background of solid performance and accomplishments in implementing programs that promote quality and efficiency and responsible and responsive government,” Howard wrote in his cover letter.

    Asked to comment on the omission of Spaceport Camden and why he was job hunting, Howard ignored the first question and addressed only the latter.

    “I was honored to hear that I was one of seven candidates selected by the Collier County Board of Commissioners” he wrote in an email. “Me and my wife have family in the region. Collier County, Florida has a population of  over 384,000 and the current manager’s salary is $230,000.”

    Howard was named as a finalist for the Fort Myers city manager position last year, and in 2018 he was a finalist for the manager’s job in Pinellas County but withdrew, the Naples Daily News reported.

    Howard promoted the spaceport at a Savannah Exchange Club luncheon on April 11, saying the license was worth $90 million and the money spent so far was only 4% of the county’s budget. He also downplayed the significance of the referendum, emphasizing the low voter turnout and what he saw as confusing phrasing of the referendum question. He believes the county will prevail in court.

    “That’s actually literally being litigated,” he told the Exchange Club regarding the referendum. “Now, we’re pretty confident that the board of commissioners will win that.”

    The Tide brings notes and observations on news and events by The Current staff.

  • The Tide: Taxes and the .001%

    As the national tax deadline looms, ProPublica has released new entries in its yearlong library of stories and easy-to-read graphics based on Internal Revenue Service files from 2013 to 2018. The stories from the nonprofit news sites’ reporters and data analysts explains who are the billionaires, how they got that way and how they are taxed. It’s instructional on how and why the policies over time became the tax code we all rely on.

    If you’re reading about President Joe Biden’s push to enact a flat tax for billionaires as well as the other plans suggested this campaign year, this package will help you figure out what you believe about the code and how it can evolve for all. Keep in mind, billionaires are in is a pretty lofty space: It will take the average American 25,000 years to earn a $1 billion.

    Here’s a list and links to the stories so you can work through them as you choose.

    America’s highest earners and their taxes revealed: A look at who the earners are, how their wealth is taxed and why the rates differ. A basic primer on the system as it affects those with more than average earnings from wages and investments.

    America’s top 15 earners and what they reveal about the U.S. tax system: Leaked IRS data shows tho reported the most income in America from 2013-2018, as well as their tax rates.

    The great inheritors: How three families shielded their fortunes from taxes for generations: A history lesson on the tax avoidance and savvy investing that highlights the conflict between keeping the fortune you earned and contributing fairly to the public good.

    How these ultrawealthy politicians avoided paying taxes: Through the holdings of two governors and a former cabinet member, this story guides us through how politicians exploit loopholes in the code and have access to knowledge that helps them build wealth on the taxpayers’ time.

    These real estate and oil tycoons avoided paying taxes for years: This story spotlights the world of the ultrawealthy where generating millions can show up as major losses on a tax filings.

    The billonaire playbook: How sports owners use their teams to avoid millions in taxes: Owning a sports franchise may seem like a vanity purchase to most of us, but it’s real business and there are lucrative tax reasons the sports world draws so many wealthy investors.

    The secret IRS files: Trove of never-before-seen records reveal how the wealthiest avoid income tax: This is the first of the stories from the load of IRS files leaked to ProPublica. it revealed that billionaires Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloombert, Carl Icahn and George Soros have managed to avoid federal tax completely at various times over the years. The story takes us through how that happens and “demolishes the cornerstone myth of the American tax system: that everyone pays their fair share and the richest Americans pay the most.”

    The Tide brings regular notes and observations on news and events by The Current staff.

  • Prosecution, defense rest in Arbery hate-crimes trial

    Prosecutors in the federal hate crimes case against Ahmaud Arbery’s three murderers spent 4½ days this week putting jarring and horrifying facts into the public record:

    • Jurors heard a witness testify that defendant Greg McMichael once referred to an African American woman as a “walrus” and that upon the death of Julian Bond, Georgia’s venerated Civil Rights leader, McMichael remarked that the former legislator and other Black leaders were “troublemakers” who deserved to be “put in the ground.” Those remarks came while Greg was working as an investigator for the District Attorney’s office.
    • Jurors also heard a White woman testify Friday that Travis McMichael often belittled her with crude language and racist slurs because she had once dated a Black man. They also saw photos of a Confederate flag sticker in a utility box on Travis’s truck, the vehicle he and his father used to chase Arbery on the day they killed him. And they read comments Travis made on Facebook about shooting Black protestors and Black people.
    • Finally, jurors heard and read years of text messages between William “Roddie” Bryan and his close friends in which they routinely denigrated Black people, accusing them of criminality, laziness and deceit. When he learned that his daughter was dating a Black man he wrote that she “doesn’t have respect for herself.”

    At approximately 1:40 pm Friday, the government rested its case, convinced that they had proved beyond any reasonable doubt that these three former Glynn County residents were guilty of the multiple federal charges they face.

    Travis, 36, his father Greg, 66, and Bryan, 52, are charged with one count of interference with Arbery’s civil rights and with one count of attempted kidnapping for threatening him while he was jogging on a public street. The McMichaels were also charged with one count each of using, carrying, and brandishing a firearm, and Travis McMichael faces an additional count of discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. Each man has pleaded not guilty.

    All three were convicted in state court of murder on Nov. 24, 2020. All three are facing life in prison for that crime. A federal conviction on any of these charges would add additional time onto that sentence — and ensure they are branded racist killers, not simply convicted murderers.

    Only one of the three defense lawyers, the man representing Greg McMichael, put witnesses on the stand to further the defense of his client. The other two lawyers told Judge Lisa S. Wood that they would not be mounting a defense.

    American courts do not require defendants to put up any defense — instead the burden of guilt is put entirely on the prosecutor. Jurors will have to determine whether prosecutors succeeded in meeting that high bar linking the three men’s views of Black people with their actions on Feb. 23, 2020, when they chased and killed Arbery.

    Attorney A.J. Balbo called two Satilla Shores residents to the stand on behalf of the elder McMichael and each testified to the fear of crime in the neighborhood, as well as to Greg’s concern for another suspicious person in the vicinity of their majority white subdivision. That person was a white vagrant.

    The defense believes that bringing this testimony to court will show that the McMichaels were equally concerned with both white and Black strangers in the area of Satilla Shores and thus undermine the government’s case.

    In opening statements, Balbo, said his client Greg was not “an angel,” but was also not a racist. Balbo said Arbery was not followed because he was a Black man, but because he was “the man” the McMichaels recognized in security videos trespassing at a neighbor’s home that was under construction.”

    “The killing of Ahmaud Arbery was a tragic and horrible event that didn’t need to happen and could have been prevented in so many ways,” Balbo told the jury.

    By 3 p.m. the defense had rested and court had adjourned, after Judge Wood ruled against a defense motion to drop all charges against their clients.

    On Monday, prosecutors and defense will make lengthy closing arguments to the jury.

    The 12 jury members include 8 whites, 3 Blacks and 1 Hispanic and they come from all 43 counties which are included in the U.S. Southern District of Georgia, including Augusta, Dublin, Tybee and Statesboro. 

    Both the prosecutors and defense attorneys have said that though racist slurs and language was reprehensible, it was not illegal — a consensus that points to the difficulty in reaching guilty verdicts in hate crimes cases across America.

    Less than 1% of all reported hate crimes make it to trial, and an even smaller number result in a conviction. That’s in large part because of the difficulty proving to juries that racism was the prime motive for violence or murder, according to criminal justice experts.

    The Tide brings updates and observations on news from The Current staff.

  • Jury hears opening arguments about motives in Arbery case

    Are Ahmaud Arbery’s killers merely murderers, or are they racist murderers?

    That’s the essential question that the jury in the federal hate crimes case that got underway Monday will have to answer over the next two weeks. 

    Although plenty of people in Glynn County and Brunswick, including Ahmaud Arbery’s family, believe this should be an open-and-shut case, the bar is high for the federal prosecutors leading the case against Travis and Greg McMichael and their former neighbor from Satilla Shores, William “Roddie” Bryan to prove this fact beyond a reasonable doubt.

    The jury impaneled to hear testimony at the federal courthouse on Gloucester Street in downtown Brunswick are citizens who come from all 43 counties which comprise the U.S. Southern District of Georgia, from Augusta to Dublin to Richmond Hill. The 12 jury members include 8 whites, 3 Blacks and 1 Hispanic. 

    Another four jurors are alternates, people who will be able to determine guilt or innocence should members of the 12-person panel fall sick or be excused for other reasons during the trial, which is expected to last 7 to 12 days.

    All three defendants are charged with one count of interference with Arbery’s civil rights and with one count of attempted kidnapping. The McMichaels were also charged with one count each of using, carrying, and brandishing a firearm, and Travis McMichael faces an additional count of discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. Each man has pleaded not guilty.

    The prosecution was quick to lay out its case, pointing to private communications and often repeated views each of the three defendants had toward Black people, a pattern of behavior, language and opinion that even each man’s defense counsel conceded to the jury was “reprehensible.”

    Bobbi Bernstein, a government prosecutor who works at the Department of Justice Civil Rights division, laid out some of the evidence of the men’s alleged racist thinking in her 30-minute opening statement Monday afternoon.

    She said Travis McMichael referred to Black people as “animals,” “criminals,” “monkeys,” “subhuman savages” and “niggers.” 

    Bernstein also described a time that Gregory McMichael described his animosity toward Georgia’s revered civil rights leader Julian Bond. When told of Bond’s death, he told a person that he was glad Bond had died, because he, like all Blacks, were “troublemakers.” That witness will be presented in court later in the trial.

    As for Bryan, the prosecutor said that his racial animus was expressed clearly in the days leading up to the violent and fatal chase of Arbery as he jogged through Satilla Shores on Feb. 23, 2020. Bryan had recently learned that his daughter was dating a Black man, someone Bryan referred to as a “monkey.” 

    Each of the three men’s defense lawyers focused their opening statements by admitting to their clients’ embarrassing language and views and distancing themselves from that behavior. 

    Gregory McMichael’s attorney, A.J. Balbo, said his client was not “an angel,” but was also not a racist. Balbo said Arbery was not followed because he was a Black man, but because he was “the man” the McMichaels recognized in security videos trespassing at a neighbor’s home that was under construction.”

    “The killing of Ahmaud Arbery was a tragic and horrible event that didn’t need to happen and could have been prevented in so many ways,” Balbo told the jury.

    Both the prosecutors and defense attorneys also said that though racist slurs and language was reprehensible, it was not illegal — a consensus that points to the difficulty in reaching guilty verdicts in hate crimes cases across America.

    Less than 1% of all reported hate crimes make it to trial, and an even smaller number result in a conviction. That’s in large part because of the difficulty proving to juries that racism was the prime motive for violence or murder, according to criminal justice experts.

    The Tide brings regular notes and observations on news and events by The Current staff.

  • Justice for Ahmaud: Jury selection begins in federal hate crimes trial

    Judge Lisa G. Wood began questioning panels of prospective jurors, some who arrived as far away as Augusta, as the federal hate crimes trial kicked off Monday in Brunswick against the three men who murdered Ahmaud Arbery.

    Fifty-two prospective jurors sat through questions about their ability to be impartial and fair when presented evidence against Travis McMichael, his father Greg and their former neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan for the five federal charges they are facing, the most serious being that the three white men killed Arbery, who was Black, due to racial hatred.

    The group of citizens represented a diverse mix of residents the more than 40 counties encompassing the U.S. Southern District of Georgia — they were majority white, like the district, and approximately 50% female and male.

    Some prospective jurors traveled 195 miles from Augusta, some came from Savannah, a majority minority city like Brunswick, and others drove in from rural townships. This wide geographic net appears to have made the issue of empaneling a jury for the federal case much easier than the state murder trial from last fall.

    The three defendants were found guilty of murder in the state case, but they each have pleaded not guilty to the federal hate crimes allegations.

    By the end of the day Monday, 20 of the prospective jurors had been struck for cause, while 30 prospective jurors were qualified into the next round of voir dire. The judge told the trial attorneys that she wants to winnow the jury pool to at least 36 qualified candidates, meaning the court is well on its way to that goal.

    In the state trial, it took more than two weeks to seat a fair and impartial jury from a pool of Glynn County residents, dozens of whom had preconceived notions of bias or guilt against the defendants and thus were struck out of the jury selection.

    In the federal case, knowledge of the Arbery murder case and the defendants’ conviction in state court is not a reason in and of itself for prospective jurors to be struck for cause.

    All the jurors who appeared for questioning Monday told the court that they had some pre-existing knowledge of the Arbery case, but one only said that they had pre-existing bias against the defendants. That person was struck for cause.

    None of the prospective jurors said they had religious or moral beliefs which would prevent them from finding the defendants guilty or innocent.

    One person of the 50 prospective jurors said she knew one of the defendants, William Bryan, because he had done work for her business in the past. Another knew law partner of Greg McMichael’s defense attorney. Both were struck for cause.

    The exact reason for others to have been sent home was not immediately clear. While Georgia courts leave many parts of court proceedings open, federal ones give options to the judge and much of the questioning on Monday was conducted in an area of the courtroom which had not been set up with audio access for journalists.

    Covid social distancing rules has limited space in the federal courthouse for public viewing. However, Judge Wood is allowing for changes starting Tuesday that will allow questioning for potential jurors will be opened to public view.

    Federal court is always closed to visual or sound recordings. However, The Current is part of the media pool allowed into the proceedings and we will update proceedings each day.

    The Tide brings regular notes and observations on news and events by The Current staff.

  • Denied spaceport injunction heads to Court of Appeals

    Anti-spaceport petitioners filed an appeal late Friday in an attempt to keep alive an effort to block the purchase of land from Union Carbide for the county-led commercial spaceport project.

    The plaintiffs’ move will send the case to the Georgia Court of Appeals. Superior Court Judge Stephen Scarlett on Thursday denied the injunction, which was needed to prevent the purchase of the property until the citizens could vote on the measure. Scarlett wrote that the plaintiffs should have brought their case sooner.

    Camden residents James Goodman and Paul Harris are appealing the denial on behalf of themselves and about 3,850 other Camden residents who signed a petition to force a referendum on the land purchase. Without the land, the spaceport project cannot advance. The petition, filed in Camden County Probate Court, is under review to determine if the required 10% of registered voters signed it. The Georgia Constitution gives the court 60 days from the petition’s Dec. 14 filing to vet signatures and another 30 days to hold a referendum if the signatures reach the 10% threshold.

    The Federal Aviation Administration in December issued Camden a license to operate a spaceport provided it gain control of the Union Carbide land, which Camden has an option agreement to buy.

    If the courts don’t prevent the purchase, petitioners fear the county will buy the land before voters can have their say on it.

    Petition signers, many of whom see the Spaceport Camden project as a boondoggle, oppose the land purchase. The county touts it as an economic boost and job creator.

    Plaintiffs’ attorney Dana Braun declined to comment on the appeal. Camden County officials also declined comment through spokesman John Simpson.

  • Coastal Georgia’s state delegation picks Kemp, party unity

    Coastal Georgia’s Republican state legislators have already chosen a side in Brian Kemp-David Perdue battle for their party’s candidate for governor next year. Now, it appears a growing tide of state elected officials are backing the incumbent as well.

    Axios Atlanta reported Thursday that 25 of 34 Republican state senators signed a letter to the former senator asking him to support Kemp’s re-election bid.

    Coastal Georgia’s state senators Ben Watson and Sheila McNeill are among the offiicals who hand-signed a letter thanking Perdue for his previous service as senator, but asking him to refrain from challenging Kemp in the name of unifying the state party. The letter is undated but appears to have been sent before the former business executive and Sea Island resident announced his candidacy for the state’s top job. McNeill represents Perdue’s own district, District 3 in Glynn County. So far, 31 state senators are on record as supporting Kemp.

    In a Sept. 2 press release from Kemp’s campaign office, 89 state GOP House members were listed as endorsing Kemp’s re-election effort. Coastal Georgia’s state House delegation were heavily represented in that list. House majority Leader Jon Burns, and representatives Jan Tankersley, Bill Hitches, Ron Stephens, Jesse Petrea, Buddy DeLoach, Don Hogan and Steven Sainz all are listed in support of the incumbent governor.

    Political pundits are wondering about whether the divisions in the state’s GOP will affect the legislature’s ability to get work done this year. A splintered GOP could mean gridlock in the work of the majority party, but with rising numbers of endorsements Gov. Kemp’s legislative agenda may not be smothered by partisan bickering.

    Rep. Buddy Carter addresses the House May 19, 2021.

    One big question for Coastal Georgia voters is when U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter will pick a side between the two Republican gubernatorial candidates. If past actions are prologue, Rep. Carter was one of the Congress members who attempted to negate Georgia’s 2020 election results amid the insurrection on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6. That stance reversed his position announced more than two months earlier, when Rep. Carter told The Current that Georgia voters could trust our state’s electoral system.

    Perdue continues to pitch the false narrative from former President Donald Trump that the state’s election results were flawed even after three recounts and audits proved the results again.

    The Tide brings regular notes and observations on news and events by The Current staff.

  • New ‘Dirty Dozen’ includes climate change on Georgia Coast

    Among the Georgia Water Coalition’s annual “Dirty Dozen” this year is the 100-mile long Georgia Coast because of its vulnerability to the effects of climate change. It’s the first time in the 11-year history of the report that climate change has been named an issue.

    “Georgia is one of the most vulnerable and least prepared states
    when it comes to dealing with effects of climate change, but Georgia’s elected
    officials have largely failed to address the issue,” the report by this nearly 300-member coalition of businesses, nonprofits and religious groups states.

    “It is also one of the least prepared states that deal with the public health impacts of climate change, according to a recent study by the Trust for America’s Health,” said Joe Cook of coalition member Georgia River Network during an online press conference introducing the report Tuesday. “In particular, Georgia’s elected officials have been slow to embrace policies that transition the state toward cleaner energy sources.”

    The Dirty Dozen report brings attention to sites that aren’t necessarily the most polluted but are those where politics, policies and issues threaten the health of Georgia’s water and the well being of its citizens.

    Climate change also came up in two other Dirty Dozen issues: a proposed plastics-to-fuel plant in Macon and the increasing problem of algal blooms.

    “The proposed plant would take plastics and break them down to diesel and other fuels. So what seems like a silver bullet for the plastics pollution problem is in fact, part of the problem because it generates more greenhouse gases through the production, transformation and ultimate burning of fossil fuel based plastic fix while perpetuating our dependence on plastics,” Cook said.

    Likely to worsen with climate change is the problem of algal blooms that thrive in nutrient rich water and warm temperatures.

    “Earlier this year, a family pet died while coming in contact with cyanobacteria at Bull Sluice Lake on the Chattahoochee River in Roswell,” Cook said. Since then, the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper identified two more locations with harmful algal blooms.

    “Nutrients washing off the land from thousands of sources make this a particularly difficult problem to fix,” Cook said. “It will take the efforts of literally millions of individuals to get it corrected.”

    The list identified three more coastal issues: the Golden Ray, a Superfund site in Brunswick, and the threat of mining near the Okefenokee.

    The Golden Ray shipwreck is gone, but damage to Georgia’s coast is ongoing, the report stated.

    Car debris from the shipwrecked Golden Ray washed upon a St. Simons mud flat this summer.

    “Now that the largest maritime disaster recovery effort in US history is mostly complete, coastal advocates are calling on Georgia officials to request Natural Resources Damage Assessments by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,” said Jennette Gayer, of the coalition member group Environment Georgia.

    A Natural Resource Damage Assessment is a process to determine the appropriate type and amount of restoration needed to offset impacts to fisheries, wildlife, habitats, and human uses impacted by oil spills, hazardous waste sites, and vessel groundings, according to NOAA.

    In Brunswick, the Dirty Dozen lists the Hercules landfill Superfund site, which Gayer said “continues to haunt the community.”

    “Since the 1990s, a landfill operated by Hercules adjacent to the Golden Isles Parkway has leached benzene and other toxic chemicals into the groundwater,” Gayer said. “Now, recent testing suggests that the contaminants are actually migrating into groundwater adjacent to properties. These tests show benzene level 70 times the maximum contaminant level goal set by the US Environmental Protection Agency for this cleanup.”

    Near the Okefenokee, proposed heavy mineral sands mine in Charlton County
    threatens the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, the largest refuge east of the Mississippi.

    “In total, the state has received more than 100,000 emails about this issue,” Gayer said. ” And the Okefenokee’s future really rests with the (Georgia) Environmental Protection Division, which will soon decide whether to issue permits for this controversial proposal that has drawn international attention.”

    The remaining issues on the list are:

    • Chattahoochee & Ocmulgee Rivers: Coal ash at multiple Georgia Power
    Company fossil fuel plants pollutes groundwater in Cobb, Coweta, Carroll and
    Monroe counties.

    The Ogeechee watershed includes parts of Chatham and Bryan counties.


    • Ogeechee River: A three-year delay in updating pollution control permit allows
    the continued discharge of dangerous chemicals in Screven County.


    • Whitewater Creek: Dirty stormwater runoff from a large mixed-use
    development is muddying a historic Fayette County creek and lake, forcing
    homeowners and Flint Riverkeeper to file a lawsuit to stop the pollution.


    • Flint River: Jet fuel and sewage spills repeatedly foul the Flint that flows beneath
    Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Advocates say it’s high time
    these needless spills stopped.


    • Coosawattee River: In Gordon County a proposal to build a 24-house mega
    chicken farm has prompted homeowners to plead with their county commission
    to protect their property values, well water and their river.


    • Conasauga-Oostanaula: Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from carpet mills are
    haunting Northwest Georgians forcing downstream water providers like the City
    of Rome to spend millions to remove the harmful chemicals from drinking water.
    To date, the state has failed to regulate these chemicals.

    The Tide brings regular notes and observations on news and events by The Current staff.

  • The Tide: On Tybee, plastic trash gets a new use

    For Tybee’s Tim Arnold, marine plastic is not some faraway scourge in the Pacific gyre. It hits home right on Tybee’s beaches. 

    Arnold organizes beach cleanups on Tybee where members of his “Fight Dirty Tybee” brigade pick up all manner of trash, most of it plastic. They recycle what they can but it’s not always possible. Take bottle caps and straws, for example. 

    “But I’ve got so many straws and bottle caps,” he said. “I’ve estimated over 100,000 bottle caps. It’s insane. Every beach sweep we’ll get 50 or more.” 

    Tim Arnold of Fight Dirty Tybee feeds ground plastic into the hopper to be melted.

    So when Arnold came across a “portable mini plastic recycling machine” on the Internet, it piqued his interest. Fight Dirty Tybee bought one and now Arnold is creating small plastic pots and coasters in his garden shed using plastics that other communities typically landfill or burn.

    The enormous quantity of plastic entering the ocean, estimated at 33 billion pounds a year, makes plastic production and pollution a top policy issue, along with fisheries and energy, for the international ocean conservation group Oceana.

    “So that’s about the equivalent of two fully loaded dump trucks pulling up next to you at the beach and dumping into the ocean, every single minute,” said Paulita Bennett-Martin, the Savannah-based federal policy manager for plastics at Oceana. Bennett-Martin previously worked as the Georgia campaign manager for Oceana.

    Funding for Fight Dirty Tybee’s $5,000 machine, which shreds, melts and molds the plastic, came from three-month long fundraiser aided by Salt Island Fish & Beer restaurant. The machine itself was shipped from Malaysia where an Australian family produces them to address plastic pollution there. The design is an open source one made available by its Dutch creator, Dave Hakkens, who offers user tips on his Precious Plastics videos.

    For now, Arnold and his volunteers are using plastic from the “hard-to-recycle” collection bins at the Tybee YMCA. They’re sticking with polypropylene, which has a No. 5 inside its chasing arrows symbol. When they get the process down pat with this clean plastic they’ll incorporate more beach litter, which can be dirtier. 

    “The polypropylene is typically margarine tubs, cottage cheese tubs, black takeout containers,” said Arnold, who retired to Tybee after a career in finance. “Some of it is rigid, but most of it is somewhat flexible. It can be microwaved. So it’s just.. it’s in everything.”

    Tim Arnold displays the upcycled pot fresh out of its mold.

    He’s right. Polypropylene is one of the top three most commonly used plastics, but only about 1 percent of it is recycled, according to everydayrecycler.com.

    Plastics have been found in remote places like the Arctic sea ice, Bennett-Marin said. Several studies of ocean water in Georgia have found tiny plastic particles in almost every sample taken. The scope of the problem goes beyond litter and the solutions go beyond cleanups, she said.

    “Cleanups are the front line; they provide a space for people to take action about the issue,” Bennett-Martin said. “But we cannot clean our way out of this issue, because of the amount of single use plastics that are being produced.”

    Arnold knows this, and intends to use his machine and its products to educate and raise awareness.

    Arnold and other volunteers sort the plastic into colors, mainly for aesthetics, then grind it into flakes. For each pot or coaster he then mixes the colors to his liking, adding white to lighten the shade or clear for extra sheen. 

    The machine heats the plastic to melt it. Arnold then pushes down a hand-held plunger to fill the steel mold.  It cools in minutes and on this day out popped a black-and-blue trapezoid planter. A matching coaster followed to act as a saucer under the pot.

    Arnold intends to make at least 100 sets to sell at the Tybee Island Farmers Market when it reopens in March. 

    Given the high temperatures, plastic fumes and knives involved in the process it’s not a participatory one for children. Or for all adults. It’s also slow, so it won’t reduce a large volume of plastic.

    Bennett-Martin, who knew about Fight Dirty Tybee’s cleanups but not about their upcycling machine, agreed its main value is in educating. Oceana emphasizes that plastics are a climate problem.

    “The production of plastics is really very important, right? Because plastics are a fossil fuel- based product. So they’re a heavy industry product. And then the production of plastics therefore contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. And so it’s a climate driver, the industry itself. We have this kind of comparison that if plastics was a country, it would be the fifth biggest greenhouse gas emitter on the planet. That’s how much we know that plastics is impacting us. And that’s before it ever becomes litter.

    Upcycled plastic pots are made from polypropylene, a plastic found in many consumer items.

    Tybee has anti-litter laws, voluntary initiatives for restaurants to quit offering straws and for shops to eschew disposable plastic bags. But they’ve barely made a dent in litter, Arnold said. So he’s already gotten creative in educating about plastic. 

    Previous educational projects include a display of thousands of cigarette butts, which contain plastic filters, in a clear orb at the Tybee Island Marine Science Center. The plastic recycler will similarly encourage people to consider the problem of plastic, he said.

    “Because you know, the whole goal here was to remove plastic from the beach, turn into something useful and educate people about stopping it,” Arnold said. 

    The Tide brings regular notes and observations on news and events by The Current staff.

  • Entangled whale spotted off Cumberland Island with new calf

    An endangered North Atlantic right whale entangled in fishing gear was spotted about 10 miles off Cumberland Island with a new calf on Thursday.

    An aerial survey team from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission spotted the whale, nicknamed Snow Cone, and her calf. A team from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources responded by boat, Georgia DNR spokesman Rick Lavender reported.

    https://youtu.be/wu9RB9wzt20

    Snow Cone was first seen entangled in gear on March 10 in Cape Cod Bay. Rescuers attempted to disentangle her several times in the Northeast and Canada. They succeeded in shortening the rope trailing behind her. Remaining on her is a configuration of two ropes exiting the mouth and rope wrapped around a segment of baleen plates in the right side of her mouth.

    Before her appearance off Cumberland, Snow Cone was last seen on November 6 in southern New England. North Atlantic right whales migrate from their summer feeding grounds off New England and Canada to give birth off Georgia and Florida in the winter. Snow Cone’s calf is the second right whale calf documented this season. The first was seen off South Carolina in November.

    North Atlantic right whale #3560 and calf off Cumberland Island Dec. 2, 2021.

    The calf is not entangled, but has been observed swimming in/through/around the ropes. Wildlife officials believe the ropes are short enough that the calf likely won’t become entangled if everything remains the same. Based on the length of the mother’s entanglement and general health assessments, officials believe her entanglement is not immediately life threatening. They intend to continue monitoring the situation.

    Right whales are highly endangered with fewer than 350 remaining. Once hunted to near extinction for their oil, entanglements and ship strikes now pose the gravest dangers to these bus-sized baleen whales.

    North Atlantic right whale #3560 and calf off Cumberland Island Dec. 2

    Snow Cone is officially number 3560 in the North Atlantic right whale catalog. As are many of the whales, she’s nicknamed based on her markings, rough patches that form unique white patterns on their black skin. In her case, it’s the marking near her blow holes that reminded observers of the frozen treat.

    She’s 16 years old an previously gave birth in the 2019/2020 calving season. She then made headlines with the unusual behavior of swimming south with her calf into the Gulf of Mexico. That 2020 calf, a male, was found dead off New Jersey in June 2020. The male calf had evidence of at least two separate vessel collisions, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported. Evaluation of the wounds suggests they occurred shortly before the animal died and were likely the cause of death.

    Right whale rules: Federal law requires vessels, paddle boarders and aircraft, including unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, to stay at least 500 yards (five football fields) away from right whales. These restrictions are in place to reduce the risk of harassment or collisions between right whales and boats. Vessels 65 feet and longer are legally required to slow to speeds of 10 knots or less in Seasonal Management Areas along the East Coast. This includes the calving and nursery area.

    Right whales often swim and rest just below the surface and can be invisible to approaching vessels. It’s important for vessel operators to follow applicable speed rules, and for boaters to slow down whenever possible.

    U.S. speed restrictions are in place for certain vessels along the mid-Atlantic November 1–April 30 and in the southeast U.S. calving area November 15–April 15.

    View more information on seasonal vessel speed restrictions.

    The Tide brings regular notes and observations on news and events by The Current staff.

  • The Tide: Savannah bike trail re-opens

    The Police Memorial Trail is short, as trails go, just 0.6 miles. Savannah refurbished it over the spring and summer, adding a little height to give adjacent tree roots room to grow and resurfacing its entire length in concrete.

    It doesn’t exactly connect anything yet, but it will, city officials promised as they ceremonially opened the trail Monday morning.

    “Police Memorial trail completes the connection between the northern portion of the Truman Linear Park Trail and Bee Road. And ultimately, it will be a part of the Tide to Town trail network,” Mayor Van Johnson told a group of about 50 city employees and residents gathered at the trail head.

    Chatham County opened the southern portion of the Truman Linear Park Trail a little more than a year ago. It runs from Lake Mayer to DeRenne Avenue. Its end point at DeRenne is about 1.4 miles from the southern end of the Police Memorial Trail near 52nd Street.

    That gap is looking more likely to be bridged in the near future, Johnson said.

    “And as you all know, council is considering allocating $4 million for the continuation of the Tide to Town in our 2022 budget,” he said. “And so I’m looking forward to our continued and expanded support of this initiative.”

    An increased hotel “bed” tax, from the current 6% to a proposed 8%, is another potential source of funding to complete the trail. The tax hike would align Savannah with other Georgia cities.

    “This council is also working actively to be able to improve and change our category in our bed tax at the state legislature,” Johnson said. “So we can put in $10 million to actually complete the doggone thing.”

    Originally built by the county, Hurricane Matthew damaged the Police Memorial Trail in 2016. While it was posted as closed for the next five years, plenty of residents still used it to ride or walk in the meantime.

    The trails are designed to undo some of the damage wrought by the road system, Alderman Nick Palumbo said.

    “The streets, the highways, the byways, the flyovers, many of them were built to deliberately disconnect our neighborhoods,” he said. “The Tide to Town vision that we have for this community ties us all back together with one trail, one system, and one Savannah.”

  • Alternative fuels hit the road in Savannah

    School buses are typically loud, and not just from all the kids yelling. About 95% of America school buses have rumbly, noisy and polluting diesel engines.

    But not the buses at the Clean Energy Road Show, which rolled into Savannah’s Georgia Tech campus Thursday. They’re so quiet that the Canadian-made Lion model plays music to warn pedestrians of its approach.

    Ga. Public Service Commissioner and founder of the Clean Energy Road Show Tim Echols prepares to drive the Blue Bird electric school bus.

    The electric buses were the biggest show-and-tell items among nearly a dozen alternative fuel vehicles on display. Like a few other attendees, Savannah Alderman Nick Palumbo even got to take the Lion bus for a spin, declaring it a smooth ride.

    “I drove it like Paw Paw and did not approach top speed,” he tweeted later. “Next time.”

    The roadshow, an annual event for over a decade in Savannah and several other Georgia cities, highlighted the advantages of switching to low or zero-emission vehicles as well as the supporting utility infrastructure programs and upcoming federal funding opportunities. On display were vehicles from three Georgia-based companies,  a Club Car Current Electric Small Wheel Utility Vehicle, a KIA Niro EV passenger car, the electric Blue Bird school bus, and a propane-powered Blue Bird school bus. Rounding out the display were a Tesla passenger car; a compressed natural gas-fueled Ford F-150 pickup; a propane autogas-fueled Ford box truck; the Lion electric school bus; a Waste Management Class 8 compressed natural gas trash truck; and an electric yard spotter truck, used to move trailers around a shipping yard.

    “What the clean energy Roadshow is all about is helping people evaluate the technologies to determine ‘When do we get it? How many do we get? Does it work? What are the incentives available?'” Echols said at the program’s start. He owns and drives several alternative fuel vehicles.

    Palumbo, who rides an electric bike, said alternative fuel vehicles are already gaining acceptance.

    “It’s no longer an ‘out there’ concept. And we’ve got it right there in the parking lot that these are ready to roll today. These are ready to be deployed, these are ready to be scaled, these are ready for any community in Georgia in the United States.”

    Along with panels of speakers from the manufacturers of the display vehicles and others, including and other Georgia PowerAtlanta Gas Light Peachstate Trucks and Yancey Bus, the roadshow went on the road for a brief field trip to the under-construction Port Fuel Center on Augusta Road near I-95.

    It’s a 16-acre fueling facility for both truckers from the nearby Port of Savannah and ordinary drivers. Along with gasoline and diesel it will offer compressed natural gas and electric vehicle charging capacity for 11-12 trucks and 23 passenger cars. That’s more electric vehicle chargers than at any other public charging spot in the county.

  • The Tide: First right whale calf arrives

    The first North Atlantic right whale calf of the season was spotted off South Carolina Monday.

    It could be a good omen for those who track this critically endangered species. Fewer than 350 of these bus-sized whales remain, said Clay George,  a senior wildlife biologist who leads the DNRs’ work with marine mammals. 

    They come to Southeast waters to give birth and nurse their young after feeding in the waters off New England and Canada. They’ve suffered high mortality from ship strikes and entanglements in fishing gear in recent years, adding hope and anxiety to another birthing season. Since 2017, 10% of the population has died. Last year, 19 calves were born. 

    https://twitter.com/NOAAFish_SERO/status/1460237960054546437

    Researchers like George would like to see a baby boom of at least 20 this season. 

    “I’m trying to stay optimistic in the sense that we’ve been hearing from colleagues in Canada that the last couple summers the whales have looked pretty good especially in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and that they seem to be finding food,” George said. “We keep waiting for this period where we have a good chunk of the females that show up and and are pregnant. So every year that goes by with very few calving females means that there’s that many more that are available to calf. They can only calf every three or four years at the most frequent.” 

    First-time mother, Catalog #3230 ‘Infinity’, was 19 years old and the oldest daughter of #2040 ‘Naevus’. Naevus has produced three adult female calves and all three gave birth last winter (#3230 Infinity, #3520 Millipede, #3860 Bocce)! Millipede gave birth to her first calf in 2013 and Bocce gave birth to her first calf in 2016, but both calves are presumed dead. Infinity’s calf died in a boat strike.

    The Southeast, from South Carolina to northern Florida, is the only place North Atlantic right whales routinely give birth and nurse their young. They usually appear here in December. 

    With the assistance of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources will help perform aerial surveys beginning Dec. 1. Every day the weather allows, the teams will  traverse the offshore area looking for the whales, which are Georgia’s official state marine mammal.

    They’re called right whales because their slow speed and tendency to float when killed made them the right whale to hunt. So did their habit of swimming near the coastline, which has earned them the nickname of urban whale. They were hunted nearly to extinction in the late 1800s but have been protected from whalers since 1935. 

    But last month the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium announced their population dropped to 336 in 2020, an eight percent decrease from 2019. The latest estimate is down from 366 in 2019. It’s the lowest population number for the species in nearly 20 years.

    Their most recent peak was in 2011, when the species was estimated at 481 whales.  In just the last decade that’s shrunk by 30%. 

    Even sportfishing vessels can kill

    “So it’s really depressing, and not going the right way,” said George, who has devoted the last 15 years or so to whale work in Georgia. “And of course, the three issues are vessel strikes, entanglement in fishing rope, and climate change.”

    After accidentally striking a right whale, the captain of the “About Time” intentionally grounded the sinking sportfishing boat’ in Salt Run on Anastasia Island within the State Park.

    A graphic example of the danger of vessel strikes occurred in northern Florida last year. A 54-foot sport-fishing boat, the “About Time,” struck a right whale calf off Anastasia Island around 6:20 p.m. on Feb. 12 as it returned from a fishing trip. The boat was cruising around 21 knots, approximately 0.41 miles east of St. Augustine Inlet. The captain was unsure of what they had hit.  But the owner of the $1.1 M 54-foot Jarrett Bay, Dayne  Williams, reported saying, “I think we hit a whale, I saw fins and blood.”

    The captain beached the boat, which was seriously damaged and taking on water. 

    “The starboard side drive shaft was bent, and the strut that holds the propeller in place was pushed through the hull of the vessel. Both propellers were bent, and the damage was consistent with hitting a large object,” the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission report read. 

     The next day a dead, month-old whale calf washed ashore on Anastasia Island with propeller gashes across its back and head.  The baby whale, a male, also sustained broken ribs and a cracked skull. It was the first known calf of a 19-year-old mother, sighted off Amelia Island a month prior.

    Approximately 22-foot-long dead right whale calf. The one-month old, male calf of Catalog #3230 beached on Anastasia State Park in St. Augustine, FL on February 13, 2021. The calf had injuries consistent with a vessel strike, including fresh propeller cuts on its back and head, broken ribs, and bruising.

    Vessel speed regulations are in place to slow marine traffic to 10 knots when right whales are nearby, but they apply to ships 65 feet or longer. The “About Time” was 54-feet long. Florida FWC concluded there was no evidence it had violated navigation rules or state statues. 

    Until those rules are revisited to include smaller boats, the advice is simple.

    “Right now, we’re just saying slow down,” George said. “It’s good for the whales, it’s good for the safety of your boat and your crew and your passengers.”

    George can’t yet suggest a specific speed. The regulations for larger vessels are based on research. 

    “Ten knots  seem to be the switch point where whales went from surviving to dying, but the whole scenario (with a 65-foot or larger vessel) is quite different than a small boat,” he said. 

    He suggests boaters do what whale researchers do.

    “I can tell you that when we go offshore, and then locations where at times when whales are around, we basically go to what we call minimum planing speed,” he said.   

     He also suggests boaters stay vigilant. 

    “Keep a sharp eye and avoid boating during periods when it’s dark or the conditions and visibility are poor,” he said.

    A species might depend on it.

    Right whale rules: Federal law requires vessels, paddle boarders and aircraft, including unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, to stay at least 500 yards (five football fields) away from right whales. These restrictions are in place to reduce the risk of harassment or collisions between right whales and boats. Vessels 65 feet and longer are legally required to slow to speeds of 10 knots or less in Seasonal Management Areas along the East Coast. This includes the calving and nursery area.

    Right whales often swim and rest just below the surface and can be invisible to approaching vessels. It’s important for vessel operators to follow applicable speed rules, and for boaters to slow down whenever possible.

    U.S. speed restrictions are in place for certain vessels along the mid-Atlantic November 1–April 30 and in the southeast U.S. calving area November 15–April 15.

    View more information on seasonal vessel speed restrictions.

    The Tide brings regular notes and observations on news and events by The Current staff.

  • The Tide: What new infrastructure bill could do for Coastal Georgia

    With the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act freshly passed by the U.S. House of Representatives Friday, Coastal Georgia nonprofit leaders and elected officials are taking a look at how the coast’s needs fit into the act’s funding. Unlike the American Rescue Plan, which gave funding specifically to localities, this bill doesn’t earmark funding that way. Instead, according to the White House, the bill includes:

    • $89.9 billion in guaranteed funding for public transit over the next five years.
    • $66 billion in funding to eliminate the Amtrak maintenance backlog, modernize the Northeast Corridor, and improve rail service outside the northeast and mid-Atlantic.
    • $110 billion in new funding to repair and rebuild roads and bridges “with a focus on climate change mitigation, resilience, equity, and safety for all users.” 
    • $55 billion in funding for clean drinking water, with an emphasis on eliminating lead pipes.
    • $7.5 billion to build out a national network of EV chargers. 
    • $17 billion in port infrastructure and waterways.
    • $65 billion in funding to create universal access to reliable high-speed internet.
    • $65 billion in funding for clean energy transmission and power infrastructure upgrades.

    Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) pushed to ensure the legislation included funding to help coastal Georgians prepare for more severe tropical storms, storm surge, and coastal flooding.

    “This was one of my highest priorities in this infrastructure legislation was ensuring that there were significant investments in coastal resilience,” he told residents in St. Marys in August. “And it is my pleasure to report to you that there is more than $12 billion for coastal resilience in this bipartisan infrastructure bill. And that means resources that will flow to localities and counties for drainage infrastructure improvements for permeable pavers to assist with draining flood and tropical storm and storm surge events, for marsh land remediation and sustainment, for weatherization of public and private buildings so that communities like this one can withstand more and more intense tropical storms and flooding.”

    King Tides plus rain and wind over the weekend flooded Riverside Drive in Glynn County. Rising sea levels will make similar floods more frequent in coming years.

    Jennifer Kline, a coastal hazards specialist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Resources Division said on Tuesday it’s too soon to which to know for which funds Coastal Georgia will be competitive.

     “We don’t have anything in the hopper because there are just too many unknowns,” she wrote in an email. “We have been working with partners to keep ourselves as prepared as possible.  

    For Savannah Alderman Nick Palumbo, a few obvious projects come to mind:

    “Certainly Tide to Town!” he texted, referring to a planned network of nearly 30 miles of protected walking and bicycling trails throughout Savannah. “Also drainage improvements to both the Casey and Springfield canals as well. And finally – Project DeRenne.”

    Project DeRenne is a planned $60 million revitalization of a main east-west corridor in Savannah.

    For Brionte McCorkle, the head of Georgia Conservation Voters, a caveat came first.

    “I should start by saying that we really want to see the Build Back Better Act pass as well,” she said.

    That’s a $1.75 trillion bill still working its way through Congress that proposes extensive social safety net and climate policies.

    “There’s lots of money for infrastructure here (in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act), but not quite enough on the climate investment piece that we’re looking for, which I think is important for Coastal Georgia,” McCorkle said. “There are a lot of costs associated with what we expect to be more storms and more flooding. We need a lot of resilience infrastructure, a lot of disaster relief assistance, things like that, that I don’t think this bill goes far enough on.”

    She did point to a few things in the bill that could benefit the coast.

    “There’s some good stuff in here like clean energy research, development, and demonstration,” she said. “There’s grid modernization, some funding for resiliency, not enough, but some and funding for water infrastructure. And also electric vehicle infrastructure and EV school buses.”

    The green dots show the locations of public EV chargers as of January 2021.

    Coastal Georgia has only a small proportion of the state’s more than 930 publicly available EV charging stations, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development. Most of them are clustered in the Atlanta area.

    “We’ve got to start building out infrastructure in other parts of the state,” McCorkle said. “Cars travel, people travel. We would need to make sure that we’ve got infrastructure all over the place so that people can get to any part of the state.”

    Thirteen Republicans voted to pass the bill, but Coastal Georgia’s U.S. Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter was not among them.

    The Tide brings regular notes and observations on news and events by The Current staff.

  • The Tide: Ga. coast braces for tidal flooding

    Before a raindrop fell on Friday, some low-lying roads and yards flooded in Coastal Georgia’s marsh-front areas. Along U.S. 80 at the mid-morning’s high tide, the marsh and the Savannah River threatened to converge on this only road in and out of Tybee Island.

    In Glynn County, the F.J. Torras Causeway to St. Simons was inundated, said Glynn County Emergency Management Agency Director Josh Bain.   

    https://youtu.be/UhJQI8-WcjA

    That’s because it was a higher than normal high tide, called a king tide. King tides occur when the moon is full or new and closest to Earth in its elliptical orbit, increasing its gravitational pull on the water. Fall king tides are typically the highest because water is near its warmest and most expanded, pushing up sea level. 

    The king tide can be pushed even higher by wind and rain, as is expected as the weekend continues. 

    “We’re looking at an inch to 2 inches of rain,” Bain said Friday. “It’s gonna be a little rough tomorrow. Stay home and read a book.”

    The flooding effects of king tides are becoming more frequent as fossil fuel emissions push average temperatures higher, which in turn increases sea levels. These floods are called tidal floods or sunny day floods.

    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recorded 12 days of tidal flooding at the Fort Pulaski tide gauge last year and predicts five to nine  days this year. In 2000, the annual average was two. By 2030, it’s expected to climb to 15-25 per year.

    Fort Pulaski National Monument delayed its opening Friday and will delay again over the weekend to avoid having visitors drive through a flooded entrance area. 

    On Tybee, the city tried to document flooding for “climate change verification, funding requests, growth…so many options to provide data when needed or appropriate,” texted Mayor Shirley Sessions. 

    But Friday’s flooding there was mild, Sessions said. 

    “It didn’t cross the road, nothing significant,” she texted.

    To stave off tidal flooding, U.S. 80 was raised about 8 inches in its lowest spots when the road was repaved in 2018. 

    Cardinal Drive across the street from Herb Creek on Isle of Hope on Friday morning, Nov. 5 during a king tide.

    With additional king tides plus more rain on the way over the weekend, Tybee officials are still on their guard and in touch with the National Weather Service in Charleston.

    “The gale blowing NNE right now is creating variations in the tide models and minor changes in the wind direction can have significant changes to the peak water levels, Sessions texted. “The astronomical prediction is for a 9.05-foot tide at 9:45 a.m. at the Fort Pulaski gauge. The forecast prediction right now is 10.7 feet. Depending on weather conditions at high tide, that could change in either direction. There’s usually a 90-minute window to watch for U.S. 80 flooding, and it’s typically delayed by as much as 30 minutes from the predicted high tide. Regardless, it’s very likely that the road will need to be closed for a brief period due to flooding and removal of any marsh wrack/debris.”

    Check these resources for more information about tidal flooding in Georgia: 

    NOAA provides several resources on coastal flooding, including the NOAA Coastal Inundation Dashboard, which provides real-time water levels with forecasts out to 48 hours for all tidal stations.

    NOAA’s high tide flooding report allows comparison of the number of tidal floods each year at each tide gauge. It also provides predictions of the flooding expected in the future. Georgia has only one NOAA tide gauge at Pulaski. The closest gauge to Brunswick is in Fernandina Beach. 

    The Smart Sea Level Sensor Dashboard maps out its sensors and provides real time data about water levels (and other environmental parameters such as temperature, humidity and barometric pressure) at 60 sites around Chatham County. 

    The Tide brings regular notes and observations on news and events by The Current staff.

  • The Tide: Judge recuses self from Buddy Carter property tax hearing

    A Camden County Superior Court judge on Monday recused himself from a hearing set to take place less than 24 hours later. He hadn’t previously realized the plaintiff was U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter.

    “The undersigned, having just been made aware that Petitioner Earl L. Carter is Congressman Buddy Carter, with whom he has enjoyed both a personal and professional relationship, has determined it necessary that he recuse himself from the hearing in the above captioned manner,” the recusal order from Judge Anthony L. Harrison reads. 

    The order was filed just before 1 p.m. Monday. The hearing had been set for Tuesday at 9 a.m. but was canceled by the recusal. The clerk of court will reassign the matter to another superior court judge.

    A freeze worth $30,000

    U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter purchased this land in 2018 for $2.1 million. He appealed the 2020 property tax assessment that put the value at 13 percent of the sale price.

    Carter is petitioning the court for an order to the Camden board of assessors regarding his contested property tax assessment. He wants either a freeze on the assessment at the 2020 level for three years — saving him about $30,000 in taxes —  or another shot at a hearing on his property tax appeal.

    The Congressman also asked for “costs and reasonable attorney’s fees” and “any and all other relief this Court deems just and proper under the circumstances.”

    Carter, Georgia’s First District representative, lives in Chatham County. But he bought a nearly 500-acre undeveloped property in Camden in 2018 for $2.1 million from Challenged Investments LLC.  The land is about 220 acres of wetlands and 250 acres of higher ground the county describes as “residential large tract.” 

    The 2020 tax assessment that Carter appealed put the land’s value at $278,000, about 13% of what he paid two years prior.

    Carter’s estimated net worth in 2019 was $13.2 million, making him the 22nd wealthiest member of the U.S. House of Representatives, according to a USA Today article that year. 

    A claim of bad advice

    After two delays, the Congressman’s hearing at the Camden County Board of Equalization was scheduled for Dec. 29, 2020.  

    But before the hearing Carter talked with someone at the board, who he says gave him bad information.

    “… Carter spoke with a representative of the CCBE who informed Carter he could submit a letter consenting to the assessed value,” Carter’s petition to the court states. “The CCBE representative stated to Carter submitting the letter of consent would obviate the need for the appeal hearing, and freeze the assessed value on the property for three years.”

    U.S. Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter

    Carter wrote the consent letter, including the stipulation that agreeing to the assessment would freeze his property value for three years and that he wouldn’t be required to attend the hearing. 

    The letter concludes: “If this information is incorrect I request the board of equalization contact me immediately.” 

    The board didn’t contact him until Jan. 4 when in an email the clerk of court informed the Congressman that his filed consent form ended his appeal. 

    His property assessment was not frozen and would increase significantly in 2021. 

    “Carter was knowingly misled by the CCTA via the CCBE and its operatives,” his petition states. 

    In 2021 the property was assessed at $1.3 million, or 61% of what he paid. Carter has said he plans to use for hunting and fishing and not as an investment. It sits about 7 miles down the road from the site of the planned Spaceport Camden, which Carter supports. 

    The Current filed a request Friday to record the hearing and will pursue it whenever it’s rescheduled.

  • The Tide: Tree fight stops road project on St. Simons

    A judge on Friday granted a stop work order on a road project on St. Simons Island near Fort Frederica.

    “It is hereby ordered that defendants are temporarily enjoined from any further development, demolition or tree removal of any kind related to the Frederica Road Location Project until further order of the court, Superior Court Judge Roger B. Lane wrote Friday morning.

    A hearing will be held at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 25.

    “No more trees will be hitting the ground,” reported Dave Kyler of the Center for a Sustainable Coast. The Center, along with county resident Jeff Kilgore, requested the order Thursday.

    Work on the Frederica Road on Sept. 22. Photo courtesy Jeremy Marquis

    About six large trees, only two of which were in good shape, along with undergrowth, had been removed since work began in late September, according to Jeremy Marquis, a landscape architect on the project. The adjacent Christ Church Episcopal hired his St. Augustine-based firm of Marquis Latimer + Halback to assist in the $1.3 million plus project to reroute the road, for which the church is paying the bulk.

    Marquis said the current alignment of the road with two blind curves poses a safety hazard to the church’s growing population of elderly members and young families, many of whom park across the road for services.

    Jeremy Marquis. Photo courtesy Jeremy Marquis

    His plan aims to remove as few healthy trees as possible, protect remaining trees and plant 21 new live oaks along the road and another 20 on the church property.

    “I love Christ Church because that parish loves their trees; they take care of their trees,” Marquis said.

    But the church’s involvement complicates the project on the county road, the Center for a Sustainable Coast explained in its brief to the court. A memorandum of understanding requires Christ Church to pay all project costs — estimated at  $1,324,740.38 — except $50,000 paid by Glynn County to construct the Stevens Road  intersection. This funding arrangement means the Corps of Engineers erred in providing a permit for the project, the Center for a Sustainable Coast argues. 

    “Special Condition #1 in Regional General Permit 34  requires that transportation projects authorized thereunder must be funded by federal, state, or local  government,” the brief states. “However, the terms of the MOU clearly evidence that the Stevens Road  intersection is the only portion of the Project that can be authorized under RGP 34  because Defendant Christ Church is funding all engineering services, permit coordination,  easements, and cost overrun and funding all construction costs other than the Stevens Road  alignment/intersection.”

    Glynn County’s tree ordinance  also requires its Tree Board to review any privately developed public roadway project. But the county hasn’t made sufficient appointments to its Tree Board, rendering it defunct. 

    “So they never had a hearing of any kind to remove the trees, they never followed the ordinance and could not really follow the ordinance because they had killed the tree board that was supposed to render a judgment that the county considered,” Kyler said.

    The Tide brings regular notes and observations on news and events by The Current staff.

  • The Tide: Draft plan for Savannah’s Forsyth Park offers ‘lighter touch’

    A 30-acre rectangle of green that bridges the city’s historic and Victorian district, the Forsyth Park provides something for everyone. It’s a picturesque wedding site, a weekly fresh produce spot, a grassy lawn for a picnic, a canvas for an annual chalk art contest, a concert venue, a place to play pickup basketball, a 1-mile jogging loop. 

    So when the partners who undertook the task of creating a master plan for the park asked for public feedback last spring, they got plenty. Those partners include The Trustees’ Garden Club, which took on the project six years ago as a gift to the city and hired Charlottesville, Va.-based landscaping architects Nelson Byrd Woltz. 

    Trustees’ Garden Club is paying for the $600,000 cost of the plan. 

    “The plan is not to change the character of the park,” co-chair of the Trustees’ Garden Club Forsyth Park Project Eleanor Rhangos said in an online public forum Wednesday. “But it is to preserve and where possible, restore its historic integrity, make recommendations for areas in need of improvement such as lighting and stormwater management and identify enhancements such as more bathrooms to be implemented in the years to come based on the feedback from the community.” 

    The draft plan is now open for comment, which must be received by Sept. 30. The existing park and the draft plan are reproduced here and are also available at www.friendsofforsyth.org 

    EXISTING, DRAFT PLANS

    Existing layout of Forsyth Park.
    Draft plan for Forsyth Park.

    The plan suggests a few new elements for the park: 

    ● Bathrooms near the southwest corner 

    ● Stormwater gardens in each of the four outer corners of the open lawns.

    ● Addition of a children’s garden directly south of the existing Fragrant Garden. 

    ● Additional picnic/seating areas in the central portion of the park near the cafe.

    ● Enhanced lighting throughout the park. 

    ● A new, yet-to-be-designated monument along southern portion of the central walkway. 

    Modifications to existing features include: 

    ● A six-foot widening of the 1.5-mile perimeter sidewalk to 14 feet to accommodate a one-way bike lane and a separate two-way pedestrian lane

    ● Removal of the western “big kids’” playground from its west-central position and the creation of a new playground and splash pad area on the south end. 

    ● Moving/replacing the bandshell and splash pad. Shifting the position of the bandshell slightly south to allow for loading and unloading equipment. Addition of electric outlets. Removal of water feature in front of stage. 

    ● Adding tree-root protection for trees lining the southern half of the central walkway 

    The draft plan leaves largely unchanged: 

    ● The placement and size of the two parking lots. 

    ● The Rotary Club playground 

    ● Tennis courts 

    ● The north half of the park with its criss-crossing paths, canopy of trees and iconic fountain. 

    The project team completed a health assessment for each tree in the park, with treatment recommendations for each tree. 

    Several of the residents who participated in the online sessions Wednesday expressed relief that the current draft seems to have a “lighter touch” than did previous iterations. 

    Costs of implementing any of the plan’s elements are not yet available.

    “This is the draft plan,” said Project Manager Charlotte Barrow of Nelson Byrd Woltz. “We’re presenting it to the community now. We’re going to incorporate feedback from the community. We’re going to refine the plan. We’re going to send it to our cost estimator, we’re going to give them five weeks to produce construction cost estimates. And those pricing estimates will be included in the final master plan.” 

    Elements of the final plan, if approved by Savannah City Council, will be implemented as priorities and funding allow. The city already has funding set aside for lighting improvements in the park and that’s likely to be among the first things implemented. Comments can be submitted directly on the Friends of Forsyth web site or at Saturday informational sessions in the park: Sept 18 and 25 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. The deadline for comment is Sept. 30.

    The Tide brings regular notes and observations on news and events by The Current staff.

  • The Tide: Thiokol Memorial Project seeks help

    Fifty years after an explosion claimed the lives of 30 people at the Thiokol munitions manufacturing plant in Woodbine, a nonprofit is calling on Georgia’s U.S. Congressional representatives to formally honor the lives of those workers.

    Most killed in the explosion on the morning of Feb. 3, 1971, were poor, Black women who perished while making trip flares to help soldiers fight the Vietnam War. Despite the magnitude of the explosion and loss of life, the tragedy has not been part of the historical narrative of Camden County, The Current reported earlier this year.

    The Thiokol Memorial Project, led by Jannie Everette, operates a small museum downtown Kingsland that is devoted to preserving and honoring the lives of the victims. She is the daughter of survivor Lucille Washington. The petition is designed to get the attention of Georgia’s U.S. Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock and it calls for the victims to be posthumously honored with the Congressional Gold Medal. The group contacted District 1 Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter some time ago.

    “They are the only contributors to the Vietnam War that have not been honored for their service to this nation and humanity,” according to the Thiokol Memorial Project’s online call-to-action. “They have not been honored as the pioneers of the Modern American Workplace.”

    The honor requires cosponsorship by at least two-thirds (290) U.S. House members and 67 U.S. Senators.

    The online petition can be found at http://thiokolmemorial.org/petition/. To sign it, donate or comment, click on “Add Your Voice,” which redirects to a form on www.change.org.

    The Tide brings regular notes and observations on news and events by The Current staff.

  • The Tide: Fort Stewart gets notice for woodpecker work

    An endangered bird is making a comeback after nearly three decades of careful forestry management on a coastal Georgia Army post. 

    Red-cockaded woodpeckers at Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield, the largest U.S. military installation east of the Mississippi, have been steadily increasing in population since the Department of Defense began working to save the dwindling species in 1994. 

    The red-cockaded woodpecker is making a comeback, in part due to work being done at Fort Stewart.

    The resurgence of the rare birds, a result of good forestry management practices, are among reasons why the post was awarded the 2020 Secretary of the Army Environmental Award for Natural Resources Conservation for a large Installation in April. 

    “We reached our recovery goal of 350 pairs back in 2012 and the population continues to grow,” said Larry Carlile, Chief of the Fish and Wildlife branch at Fort Stewart. “Everything so far shows that we have another increase this year.” 

    The birds require mature longleaf pine forests and live in cavities they hollow out of old longleaf pine trees. Decades of timber over harvesting, poor agricultural practices and fire suppression resulted in the destruction of much of the birds’ habitat.

    In addition to seasonally appropriate controlled burns and tagging the birds, the Army post also installed about 4,000 artificial cavity boxes on the trunks of mature trees.

    “We are right on the cusp of this forest being old enough for them to excavate all their cavities without us doing it for them, but we intend to keep doing this to help prop them up until the forest reaches the proper age,” Carlile said.

    Red-cockaded woodpeckers were designated a federally endangered species in the 1970s. Last year, the Trump administration proposed downlisting the bird from endangered status to threatened status as the U.S. 

    The Department of Agriculture Forestry Service estimated nearly 7,800 clusters living in 11 states from southern Virginia to eastern Texas, according to a September 2020 report.

    Jeff Mangun, chief of Stewart-Hunter Forestry Branch, said the controlled burns, timber thinning, timber harvesting on base have helped not only the woodpeckers, but also the economy and soldiers in training.

    The Army advertises bids for wood buyers and commercial loggers and hires private companies to cut the timber to the Army’s specification. Money made from timber sales, by law, must be returned to the forestry branch, which uses it to pay for forestry management.

    The post has harvested 38,228 acres of timber in the past decade, according to an informational poster presented to newsmakers during a media day at the base June 14, 2021. The Current requested information about how much revenue timber sales raised and information about the contractors; the base did not respond by publication. 

    Fort Stewart has the largest prescribed burn program in North America of any one public or private contiguous land holding, Mangun said. The burn season is Dec. 1 through June 30. The Army uses helicopters to ignite and monitor the burns, which amount to roughly 120,000 acres per year.

    The Army branch also thins the forest by reducing the number of trees per area, which allows for an understory suitable for army training. 

    That’s also good for the flatwoods salamanders that live there. The amphibians are the last known colony living in Georgia and one of three on Earth.

    The Current highlighted the species in a February article that detailed the reasons for its decline and efforts to save the cryptic critters. A month after the article was published, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a long overdue draft plan which provides official guidance for how best to care for the species by providing the proper conditions to ensure its survival.

    The Tide brings regular notes and observations on news and events by The Current staff.

  • The Tide: Carter’s role in Revenge of the Nays

    Congressional reporting over the past week focused on the aftermath of the events of Jan. 6: the insurrection at the Capitol and the attempt to throw out Georgia’s votes in the November election.

    Coastal Georgia’s Rep. Buddy Carter took center stage in several stories — he was one of several members of the Georgia delegation who tried to block their state’s votes from counting at all. 

    That move — construed by some as an endorsement of the riot — nearly derailed a bipartisan effort to stem the opioid addiction crisis by allowing more treatments for addiction on the market. Carter had been working steadily on that bill for a couple years as the lead Republican sponsor. His Democrat co-sponsor on the bill, Pennsylvania Rep. Madeleine Dean, refused to work with him as the lead on the bill as it finally came up for a vote because of his stance on Jan. 6. Carter refused to budge saying “It’ll be a cold day in hell before I apologize for standing up for my values.” He also reiterated that he did not endorse the violent attack on the Congress and wanted to move on from the event. He then led an effort to defeat the noncontroversial opioid bill in protest. Requiring a two-thirds vote, it failed on a first vote. Here’s the PBS NewsHour report on the environment in Congress and Carter’s full statement.

    It wasn’t Carter’s only skirmish with his colleagues over the topic. He filed a complaint against California Democrat Rep. Zoe Lofgren regarding a 128-page report she issued in March that quoted various House members and their social media communications regarding the fairness of the election and the insurrection. In the report, 18 instances of Twitter and other notes quoted Carter questioning the Georgia state government and the voting process. It also linked to a video where Carter called  the riot “a few people who got out of control” and that their actions were unacceptable. In it, he said there was no link to those actions and his move to disallow the votes and overturn the election.

    Carter said Lofgren violated the House Communication Standards Commission’s rules of civility by compiling and circulating the report. The Washington Post report detailed the blowback on Lofgren.

    This week, Carter also voted against the formation of bipartisan legislation to create an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack. 35 Republicans joined 217 Democrats to pass the bill which now heads to an uncertain fate in the U.S. Senate. And he also voted Nay for funding to pay for damages and more security for the Capitol, Capitol police and Congress stemming from the insurrection. That bill passed, as well. (He did not vote on the other bill getting press attention this week, the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, that requires the Department of Justice to do expedited reviews of COVID-19 hate crimes. This was in part advanced in the aftermath of a mass killing that included Asian women outside Atlanta.)

    So what happened to the opioid treatment bill? Carter, who is the only pharmacist in the House and who is known for his knowledge and legislative work on drug benefits and supply chains, turned down an offer to be an ordinary co-sponsor. 

    The bill, key to opening new treatments for opioid addiction, was delayed for more than a week but did eventually pass 402-23 and headed to the Senate on Wednesday. Carter voted Nay. 

    The Tide brings regular notes and observations on news and events by The Current staff.

    WANT TO KNOW MORE: Follow your Washington representative, his daily speeches, votes and funding at this link on The Current. Follow your U.S. senators here.

  • The Tide: Separating pork from bull

    Currently Congress is wrangling over the meaning of “infrastructure.” 

    Should the term refer strictly to brick and mortar items to fuel and transport growth, or include the economic safety net of child care, teachers and health care? Those are the basic outlines of political debate surrounding the proposed $2 billion infrastructure spending bill backed by President Joe Biden and many Democrats.

    There is another principle dividing the U.S. House of Republican legislators: the use of budget earmarks — often called pork. That’s the term for funding requests by lawmakers for something that directly benefits a state or district. Like a deepwater port, or new housing at Fort Stewart. 

    Despite toeing the line on many GOP issues, Coastal Georgia’s Rep. Buddy Carter is one of the few Georgia Republicans who bucked party guidance about earmarks. Republican leaders have strongly discouraged their members for using the popular tool as they try to unify their ranks to defeat the huge infrastructure bill.

    Carter has requested $47,144,936 for six projects for Coastal Georgia. They include:

    • Project Derenne ($29M) to address the hairy traffic knot along Savannah’s nastiest stretch of streets; 
    • Two projects for Chatham Area Transit ($8.1M) to add park and ride and paratransit capacity; 
    • A U.S. Army Health and Holistic Wellness program ($1.5M) to be based at Georgia Southern for research and training;
    • A Coastal Equity and Resilience Hub ($5M) to be based at Georgia Tech facilities at King’s Bay submarine base that would “develop the fundamental knowledge and tools to design adaptive coastal infrastructure and equitable resilience strategies under projected future sea level rise scenarios along the vulnerable Georgia coastline”; 
    • The Johnson Rocks Revetment Project ($2.9M) to restore the older rock structure that is designed to protect the Saint Simons Island coastline during natural disasters. 

    Congressional earmarking ended 10 years ago under GOP House Speaker John Boehner who called it out for rampant abuse. Earmarking earned a bad reputation when legislators snuffled too far into the public troughs to build things no one needed — like a bridge to literally nowhere. (Thanks, Alaska.)

    But this year, as the Democrats regained the majority in the House of Representatives, they restored the practice of allowing representatives to sponsor and tag specific pieces for funding with some new guidelines. Earmarks, or Community Funding Requests, may be tied to one congressional bill now — but they can be deleted and added to other bills as a lawmaker sees which piece of legislation is more likely to pass.

    Although Carter has bolstered his reputation in the last couple of years as a staunch pro-Trump Republican, he’s been on the record for longer as a booster for earmarks.

    In 2010, Carter argued eloquently in a Savannah Morning News opinion piece that earmarks like helping expand the Savannah port are anything but a bad idea. In fact, he advocated for some creative linguistics for such projects: “And if it has to be through Congressional action, don’t call it an earmark, at least not one of the pork kind. While technically it may be labeled that, an economic development project of this magnitude is anything but pork,” he said at the time.

    The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project is now closing in on a $1 billion tab; Sen. Jon Ossoff announced another $100M for the project this past week. 

    According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Carter is one of only two current GOP representatives from Georgia to request earmarks. 

    Rep. Carter’s latest requests are a matter of public record. But it’s not a position he’s talking about in his numerous TV spots on Newsmax and Fox News.

    Instead, Carter has vigorously criticized Biden’s infrastructure plans.

    In a March 31 statement about the bill, Carter said “America needs a strong, bipartisan infrastructure bill. Unfortunately, the Biden plan is certainly not it. …. Just 5 percent of the Biden plan will go to repairing roads and bridges, just one percent will go to airports and less than one percent will go to our waterways and ports. This is not an infrastructure plan. This is a disguise for the Green New Deal, tax increases, and other liberal policies.”

    If these earmarks — and the infrastructure bill — end up passing, commuters heading to work at Hunter Army Airfield might thank their congressman. But voters who care about fiscal prudence could end up punishing him at the next election.

    The Tide brings regular notes and observations on news and events by The Current staff.

  • The Tide: Census shows Georgia gained weight, but not representation

    The first 2020 Census numbers are in. There are 331,449,291 Americans and 10,711,906 of them live in Georgia.

    The first data from the latest Census presentation, linked below, shows the U.S. grew at a rate of 7.4% over the last 10 years (the time period for Census taking in America). That’s the slowest pace of growth since the 1930 Census during The Great Depression.

    Lots of people moved south since 2010: Southern states picked up 10% growth while other regions picked up much less. Population counts determine how many seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Census Bureau, which is in charge of these statistics, released a boatload of tables to show how apportionment works and historic norms.

    For a complete visual presentation of Census changes since 1910, take a look at this. It puts a lot of percentages in perspective. For example, there are more people in Washington, D.C., than in Wyoming.

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    Our neighbor Florida gets a new Congressional seat, and even though the Peach State seems a lot more crowded these days, demographers say Georgia wasn’t even in the top 10 states closest to gaining enough population to get an additional rep.

    In another loud example of why citizen participation in the Census matters: New York is 89 people short of retaining a Congressional seat. That’s why the government bombarded folks with Census reminders a good portion of last year — power and money in statehouses and the U.S. Capitol hinges on the number of seats representing you.

    Texas was the fastest growing state in numbers and it gained two Congressional seats. Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon will pick up one seat each.

    California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia lost one seat each. California gained population but had more people leaving than those moving in, so it lost a seat.

    The average House of Representative member represents 781,169 — that more than 61,000 more people than 10 years ago. At some point, it bears considering if it’s time to expand the number of members of Congress. If you’re an earnest representative, three-quarters of a million people is a pretty large group to understand and advocate for.

    The next data dump, designed for use by states and local entities for redistricting, arrives by Aug. 16 with the final breakdowns by Sept. 30. That’s when the real wrangling at local statehouses will begin.

    Here’s the initial presentation and some media questions from the Census Bureau announcements. In short: The experts there feel very confident in the numbers and have a lot of checks for them. Take a look and see how it stacks up for you.

    The Tide brings regular notes and observations on news and events by The Current staff.

    https://youtu.be/CnZqLlOwUhE
  • The Tide: Mumps, measles – what are the odds?

    If you remember having to get a set of vaccines before you could attend school or travel, you aren’t alone. The new discussions over mandating COVID-19 shots before university students can attend class seem odd in light of the standing requirements nearly every institution of higher ed and most school districts have consistently maintained.

    At Georgia Southern — and other colleges and universities under the University System of Georgia (USG), students are required to provide documented proof of immunity to measles, mumps, and rubella, chicken pox, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis and hepatitis B prior to registration.

    The USG Board of Regents is a 19-member panel appointed by the governor and the chancellor is selected by the board. The USG sets the rules following this mandate that basically says that if authorities declare a health emergency, then other measures — like COVID-19 vaccines — can be ordered. Anyone who doesn’t follow along will be “excluded from any USG institution of facility” until they can prove immunity or immunization.

    While USG hasn’t mandated COVID-19 vaccines for students, faculty or staff, Georgia remains under a Public Health State of Emergency by order of Gov. Brian Kemp, at least through April 30. (The order has been extended 13 times since it was first signed March 14, 2020.)

    All of this begs the question: How dangerous are the other threats that require vaccines? Here’s what the CDC says:

    • Mumps: 11 cases this year; none in Georgia.
    • Diphtheria: While there have been small clusters of cases in Brazil, Haiti and the Dominican Republic in the past year, none have been reported in Georgia. In 1921, 15,520 deaths in the U.S. were attributed to it.
    • Measles: In 2000, this disease was declared eradicated until it roared back in 2019 with several outbreaks totaling 1,282 across 31 states. The outbreaks were traced to travelers and unvaccinated groups. 2020 held only 13 cases. No cases have been reported in 2021, according to the CDC.
    • Rubella: This disease was declared eliminated in 2015 for the Americas, but it still exists in other parts of the world.
    • Chickenpox (varicella): This disease still occurs and remains extremely contagious. Before a vaccine became available in 1995, the U.S. averaged 4 million cases a year and as many as 150 deaths. While we still smile at the name, it’s still a threat but serious illness is rare.
    • Whooping cough (pertussis): While it still threatens babies, it’s a danger to adults, as well. Around 16,000 cases are reported annually.
    • Tetanus: While cases have declined to a handful of cases each year, it’s still a danger. Sporadic cases still occur in adults who did not get the recommended tetanus vaccinations, according to the CDC.
    • Hepatitis B: This viral disease is still alive and well among those who haven’t gotten vaccinated. More than half of the 3,300 new cases reported annually are among persons ages 30-49. At last count, the CDC reports 1 case for every 100,000 people overall, but that incidence nearly triples for people ages 40-49.

    All of these maladies have two things in common:

    • They were once recognized as deadly ailments and still could be.
    • They are now contained well or nearly eradicated by internationally recognized vaccines.

    So how do these potentially debilitating and fatal diseases currently rank against the coronavirus pandemic?

    As of this writing, in the U.S. alone there are 31,666,546 COVID-19 cases with 566,494 deaths reported by the CDC. 219 million vaccines have been administered across the country.

    • Want to get a COVID-19 vaccine? Go here to find the closest site to you or call 888-457-0186 to schedule your shot.
    • Want more information? Call 888-357-0169 to talk to someone a the state Department of Public Health who can answer your specific questions about the immunization and vaccines.
    • Want to start your own search? Here’s a good place to start.

    The Tide brings regular notes and observations on news and events by The Current staff.

  • The Tide: Carter casts a Senate net

  • The Tide: Pecans with a side of horse racing

    The Pecan — will it be Georgia’s official nut? 

    Spare us the jokes — it’s too easy. 

    Senate Bill 222 is headed for a vote before Crossover Day on Monday, and that likely leaves it to the House and the governor to finish the work to officially declare the pecan as the official state nut. (Update: Late Wednesday, the Senate passed the bill 51-0.)

    And for those of you who think we already have a state nut — the peanut — you’d be wrong. Peanuts are the official state crop. And they are legumes, and that’s another discussion. 

    The bill, which extols the heart-healthy benefits of the tree fruit and traces its history to the 16th century, has 31 sponsors just in the Senate. It also mentions that 170,000 Peach State acres are dedicated to its growth. While there’s no recipe attached (yet), there’s even a list of ways you can enjoy Georgia’s own nut. 

    Pecans got another noteworthy mention Tuesday in the House as Rep. Ron Stephens introduced a new version of his bill in support of horse racing

    The Savannah representative argued that the racing industry would provide a more diverse income flow to farmers whose pecan groves may take decades to recover from storm damage. Some have yet to recover from Hurricane Michael in 2018, when the farmers lost crops after their trees were blown down. 

    “It allows them to get into the industry on the low end and then move up depending on how they purchase and sell horses, so it’s an additional industry,” he said. “It reminds me of somebody that, the wind comes down and blows down their corn farm. Well, they’ve got chickens and hogs as backup.” If successful, the bill, called the Harry Geisinger Rural Jobs and Growth Act, would send the ultimate decision on horse racing to the voters in the form of a constitutional amendment.

    The Tide features regular news and observations from The Current’s staff.

  • The Tide: A fight to save the legacy of Savannah’s Virginia Kiah

    Savannah Agenda’s Eric Curl has put together a three-story package this week on the late Civil Rights activist and artist Virginia Kiah and the two-decade delay in settling her estate, the curiosity of what SCAD may be doing with the artist’s works, and the hard-fought efforts to save her house by the Savannah Historic Foundation.

    In addition to serving as a community museum, Kiah’s Savannah home was a meeting place for residents and a safe haven for Civil Rights activists, political figures, artists and athletes at a time when participants in the movement were targeted and Blacks had limited lodging options, Kiah’s nephew, Michael Bowen Mitchell, said in January. Notable visitors included Julian Bond, Rosa Parks, Daisy Bates, Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, Langston Hughes and Jesse Owens.

    Curl’s stories and observations, linked above, highlight some of the confounding issues of saving Black landmarks and keeping the work of Black artists accessible to the public. The update on the frustrating delays and the fallout from them are well worth your time this weekend. See his regular public meeting agenda collection and observations here.

    The Tide features regular news and observations from The Current’s staff.

  • The Tide: Mallow bill looks for change through education

    February in America has become synonymous with Black History month, the 30-day period when mainstream media make a concerted effort to highlight illustrious Americans whose achievements, successes and breakthroughs have been diminished or forgotten.

    Rep. Derek Mallow

    Rep. Derek Mallow, our first-term lawmaker representing District 163 in Savannah, wants that to change. He, also with four other state House legislators have sponsored a resolution calling for the Georgia Department of Education to create a textbook that would highlight African American achievements from ancient civilizations to current day. And make that part of Georgia’s public school standard curriculum.

    “We have a month in February to learn about Black history, but it’s not enough time to have your history told. Or have any history told. I think it’s important that for African Americans to understand that our history didn’t just start at the bottom of slave ships,” Mallow told The Current.

    Rep. Calvin Smyre

    The bill has the backing of senior Democrats, including Rep. Calvin Smyre, the oldest serving House member and most senior Black legislator. It would go a long way to helping Georgians learn about non-white civilizations, as well as recall recent tragedies experienced by Black Georgians that have been dropped from state history books.

    It’s part of a wave of legislative action aimed at addressing racial discrimination and historic inequality. One of those – House Bill 17 – would make it against the law for law enforcement agencies to racially profile people and make it mandatory for them to collect data so that Georgians could hold them accountable to that mandate. So far, that effort has only Democratic support at the statehouse.

    However, other social justice laws have garnered bipartisan backing, such as the planned repeal of the notorious Civil War-era “citizens’ arrest” law, which was cited last year by the men indicted for killing Ahmaud Arbery.

    Rep. Carl Gilliard

    Gov. Brian Kemp wants to tighten the law to prevent vigilantism. With broad Republican support, the changes are expected to be one of the top civil rights achievements of the legislative session.

    “I’m elated that this antiquated and outdated law of 1863 is about to be repealed,” said Rep. Carl Gilliard of Savannah, a co-sponsor of the bill. “We can now put an end to Georgia’s past and move Georgia forward toward its future.”

    The Tide brings regular notes and observations on news and events by The Current staff.

  • The Tide: Raphael Warnock, Jon Ossoff take power committee spots

    Rookies don’t always get prime spots in the U.S. Senate committee lineup, but Georgia’s duo fared well.

    The senior senator from Georgia, Jon Ossoff, starts his full, six-year term on the four key committees: Banking Housing, and Urban Affairs; Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs; Rules and Administration; Judiciary. Ossoff also was named chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, a spot that’s famous for powerful bipartisan work.

    Sen. Jon Ossoff and Sen. Raphael Warnock

    Raphael Warnock starts his partial, two-year term as part of the committees on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry; commerce, Science and Transportation; and joins Ossoff on the Banking panel. He is also a member of two committees shared with the Senate: the Special Committee on Aging and a Joint Economic Committee.

    Follow their votes, public statements, campaign funding here.

  • The Tide: Buddy Carter gets a top fundraising post

    The National Republican Congressional Committee named Rep. Buddy Carter a Deputy Chair last week. He’s now one of three deputies to chairman Tom Emmer focused on the group’s goal to retake the U.S. House majority in 2022 for the Republicans.

    It’s a group that candidates routinely donate to from their own campaign funds to ensure support from the party and its supporting political action groups. Since he entered the House in 2015, Carter has donated $556,744 to the NRCC, according to Federal Election Commission records. In 2020 alone, he donated $95,307. 

    According to its website, the group supports the election of Republicans by donating to candidates and party organizations; technical and research assistance to candidates; and voter education and registration programs. It is considered a subsidiary of the Republican National Committee. 

    As for committees that are part of his day job as U.S. First District representative, Carter is on the Energy and Commerce and Budget committees in the House.

  • The Tide: Watching your vote

    The U.S. Congress and the voting processes for the House and Senate have been in the spotlight for the last few weeks. Many people never get to witness in person that crucial act by the representative they directly elected, and it’s fair to say we need to know what they are up to.

    So how do you keep up with your representative’s day-to-day work on your behalf? Various websites and projects now make that possible. The Current has compiled a page of constantly updated information so you can see the work of Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter as he represents Coastal Georgia residents in Washington. Pages to monitor work of elected U.S. Senators Raphael Warnock and John Ossoff are underway and will debut as they join the U.S. Senate.

    Through the links and information we’ll constantly add, you’ll be able to decide if they are doing work that benefits you as a citizen. In two years, Carter and Warnock will likely be back on the ballot and you’ll be able to make better-informed decisions about whether they should stay in Washington as your delegate.

    The page links to officials’ votes, floor speeches, campaign donations and web sites with their appearances, photos, videos and more. Now, when you wonder “What did Buddy say about this?” or “How did Buddy vote?” there’s a very quick way to find out.

    Start now, bookmark this link:

    https://thecurrentga.org/2021/01/13/follow-georgia-u-s-house-district-1-buddy-carter/ and keep up with the work.

    As we say regularly: Democracy isn’t a spectator sport.

  • The Tide: Social media and revolt

    Events of last week offer a stark reminder of why trusted news is so important — and reminds us that freedom of information isn’t guaranteed and it does have a cost.

    The explosion of social media as the source where many Americans get their information as well as the shrinkage of local news sources has given birth to an disinformation epidemic in our country, where its harder and harder to discern credible information and where mistrust of traditional news outlets is rampant. It’s a situation that’s as much the fault of the media itself as political leaders who dilute facts for their own gain.

    The information revolt led to five people dead during the Capitol Hill insurrection and tens of thousands more in the unceasing threat we face from COVID-19.

    When our phones light up with news alerts about a presidential tweet — or news that a president has been banned from social media sites — it’s clear how central those platforms have become in disseminating information in contemporary America.

    Social media has gotten rich from the phenomenon. In the meantime, traditional journalism outlets struggle to pay for staffing, expertise and support in many cases because their standards and processes of practicing and publishing fact-based news runs counter to the clickbait, hot takes and outrage that viewers see on social media. In-depth journalism may reveal uncomfortable facts and raise questions about common beliefs, but that ethos to hard looks and tough questions can help Americans make informed choices. That’s the kind of journalism that must be revived and must be valued and supported by local communities. That kind of news is not cheap, but it does underwrite the basic function of our freedoms in this democracy.

    Over the last four years, President Donald Trump’s social media posts, aided by the social media companies themselves, created a feedback loop for likeminded supporters. Critical analysis, verified facts and other views were conveniently ignored. In such an unchained information environment an angry mob emerged, one that believes that American institutions are rotten and that gasoline could be poured over our basic norms and ignite the conflagration Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol.

    One example of how social media has fueled anger and disinformation is Facebook. Through the campaign season leading up to Election Day on Nov. 3, the social media giant prohibited paid political ads, a key source of the company’s revenues during the 2016 election. The company’s rationale in 2020: such ads amplified disinformation. But when Georgia’s U.S. Senate campaigns went into overtime, Facebook ended its ban and began buying politically motivated posts again, despite the local and national importance of the two races. It readily allowed partisan and often inaccurate information to permeate the personal feeds through the Jan. 5 vote.

    Likely, your Georgia-based Facebook feed overnight became much like your Georgia-based TV channels: a constant attack by ads from parties, candidates and political action committees. In a survey by Citizen Browser and reported in The Markup, a nonprofit group that follows the influence of social media content, partisan media and messaging elbowed out traditional media coverage from Facebook user feeds.

    Here’s the effect of Facebook’s decision, according to The Markup:

    • David Perdue’s campaign spent up to $25,000 to reach nearly a million Georgians with one ad.
    • Raphael Warnock spent $1.2 million on Facebook to blast out 205 ads.
    • Facebook stopped some voter guide materials as it allowed candidates to gear up in early December.
    • As of the third quarter of 2020, Facebook was on track to surpass the previous year’s $70 billion in total revenue.

    Scrolling through Facebook, or Instagram, you might care about cute photos of children and pets. But Facebook cares about making money. Your feed gives the company an opportunity to do that, nuance and verified information be damned.

    And Facebook isn’t the only crowd making money off the polarization of the U.S. While Trump loyalists raided the Capitol, some of them were making money by livestreaming the event as they went in. One site, Dlive, helped one of the insurrectionists make $2,000 through his real-time footage. That user had already been kicked off Twitter and YouTube.

    And while we are talking about nuance and presentation: If you were watching the mob descending on the Capitol on Wednesday, you probably noticed that TV commentators were struggling with language for what was happening. Here’s a piece to read that talks about how the media portray events, rumors and people and how the events of the week makes us all take a step back and think about the approaches now and those we took on the road to where we are today.

    We’ve enabled the comments section for this — what’s your read on all of this?

  • The Tide: Where Trump is on the ballot

    While it’s pretty clear there are four distinct candidates for Georgia’s two U.S. Senate seat, there’s still another person lurking just off the touchscreen: President Donald J. Trump. And if you don’t believe it, just take a quick ride up to North Georgia.

    Welcome mat at the Trump store in Ellijay. The store is open 7 days a week, but closed until afternoon on Sundays.

    Gilmer County sits in the middle of North Georgia, and it’s the home of Republicans Georgia House Speaker Rep. David Ralston and U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde of the 9th District. Clyde’s campaign signs feature the outline of an automatic weapon. He’s the owner of two gun stores and succeeded Doug Collins in that seat. The county borders the 14th District, newly represented by QAnon fan and outspoken Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. Taylor Greene made news Sunday during her own U. S. Capitol swearing-in ceremony as she got into a shouting match over wearing a mask. Based on the will of the local residents over the years, it’s clear the area has a sharp tilt toward conservative politics.

    The Trump Store in Ellijay.

    And if you aren’t completely convinced on that point, you will be reassured by the door mat at the Trump Store, located in an Ellijay strip mall just behind the McDonald’s and next door to a home decor store. The mat, a large red industrial one, is printed with big white letters: 0% LIBERAL. A truck in the grocery store lot also carries a sticker: NOT A LIBERAL.

    (In case you were wondering, the Trump Store is one of several official and unofficial outlets for pro-president paraphernalia around the country, including Myrtle Beach, Dallas and Panama City, Fla. The one in Ellijay carries just about anything you’d want with the president’s name on it, as well as “Trump 2020 F$# Your Feelings” beer glasses and coffee mugs, Christmas ornaments, stickers, earrings, kids apparel, flags and other items imprinted with Confederate flags and gun-rights slogans.)

    There are other signs, too, one antiques and collectibles store downtown has one in the window and there’s another more-subtle approach inside at a booth selling old signage and metalware.

    All that said, there are actual campaign signs along the North Georgia highways for actual candidates for Senate.

    While Ga 515 aka Zell Miller Mountain Parkway was lined with Trump signs of all types long after the Nov. 3, most of those are now gone. Small roadside signs for GOP candidates David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler sit in small clusters at some busy intersections, usually matched equally with signs for Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. Intermittent driveways have signs for one or the other, but the larger signs remain for Trump, attached to houses and fences and nailed up in random trees along the four-lane strips.

    So if anyone tells you Donald J. Trump lost his bid for a second term and isn’t running for Senate, you may assure them he’s not on the ballot but he’s very much in the race.

    — Susan Catron

  • The Tide: Federal workplace protections for Covid-19 expire

    As the New Year arrived, a few things departed and one of those was the special paid leave provision under Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The provision was intended to deter workplace spread of the dangerous virus and protect those who stayed home to quarantine or care for others.

    The Temporary Rule was set April 1 by the U.S. Department of Labor under the Act to provide workers with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for reasons related to Covid-19. The Temporary Rule expired at midnight on Dec. 31.

    Today, on the U.S. Department of Labor website you’ll find a note to say it has expired with a link that only takes you to information on what it was supposed to do and a few general notations about wage and hour law.

    Message displayed on U.S. Department of Labor site.

    Under the Act, up to 80 hours of paid time out of work for quarantine, illness or wait for a diagnosis was covered by law. It also provided for up to 80 hours of paid sick leave at two-thirds of pay if an employee was unable to work in order to care for a person in quarantine or a child when a school or childcare provider is closed because of the virus.

    This means that employers and employees go back to the leave plans they had before the pandemic.

    At this point, it’s important to note that all Coastal Georgia counties are seeing post-holiday spikes in positive test rates, ranging from 18.55% in Bryan County to 11.83% in Glynn County. These rates are marked increases over those in early fall. You can track state stats here.

    So, if your child’s school closes or you’ve been exposed and have to quarantine until your test results return, you’ll have to telework — if possible — or take your regular vacation, sick leave or paid leave time. That’s that, unless your employer is benevolent or federal officials, whom you employ, decide to renew the rules as the virus continues to advance.

    — Susan Catron

  • The Tide: Ogeechee Riverkeeper brings different views from 2020

    TUESDAY, Dec. 29 Right now, we’re seeing plenty of news and story roundups of “the best” from this tough year. Yet, there are options to take the edge off those sad notes and remind you that Coastal Georgia and the rest of the world is such a spectacular place: Photo galleries.

    The Ogeechee Riverkeeper just released its photo awards for the year — including this little guy caught coming out of his shell by Wesley Hendley.

    FUNNY WILDLIFE category winner: Pond Slider in camo, Wesley Hendley, 2020. George L. Smith State Park, Twin City, Georgia.

    And while we’re at it, here’s another 2020 gallery from the Pew Charitable Trusts and its most popular images from its Instagram site this year.

    And one more — this set of galleries is pretty fabulous from National Geographic. A bonus: There’s even one for 2020 in maps and graphics.

    Enjoy!

    — Susan Catron

  • The Tide: Create your own stimulus plan

    MONDAY, Dec. 28 When President Trump signed the latest stimulus bill last night, it had a few other items in it beyond help for Americans hurt economically by the pandemic. And while some term the extras as unwanted “pork,” the $13 billion included for nutrition assistance will be a welcome meal or two for the 50 million food-insecure Americans right now. The U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent survey (Dec. 16) — worth a click if you want to dig deep into real effects of this tough time — found 13% of all adult Americans didn’t have enough to eat in the past seven days. That’s more than 1 in 10 people you may know.

    In Coastal Georgia, there are 143,000 people in need of help with food daily. America’s Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia, based in Savannah, is the key provider of food assistance. Its Southeast Branch warehouse serves Brunswick along with Brantley, Camden, Glynn, Charlton, McIntosh and Wayne counties.

    The food bank has distributed more than 25 million pounds of food this year, six more than in 2019. It’s provided 730,000 meals through Kids Cafe — 130,000 more than in previous years.

    Want to help with the most basic needs in your neighborhood? Here’s how to be part of your own stimulus solution.

    — Susan Catron

    Take your keyboard for a spin across South Georgia

    SUNDAY, Dec. 27 In these mostly indoor days, we’ve found some gems to take our minds outside to play. Editor in Chief Margaret Coker brings us this discovery: Vanishing South Georgia from photographer Brian Brown.

    Brown has been photographing historic places on or below the Fall Line for years. Along with that, he’s been collecting stories like this one about Hall’s Knoll in Liberty County, which was named for Dr. Lyman Hall. Hall was one of Georgia’s three signers of the Declaration of Independence and was part of the stalwart Midway group that was known for its drive to leave British rule — hence the name now of Liberty County.

    Brown’s site takes you on a drive across South Georgia and through places you’ll want to visit when it’s safe and warm again. But for now, enjoy steering your keyboard through this vast and beautiful collection.

    Do you have a favorite internet trip you’d like to share? Send it to us at thecurrentga@gmail and we’ll add it to the The Tide for all to see.

    — Susan Catron

    Counting the days

    SATURDAY, Dec. 26 In the quiet of the holiday moment, away from the aggressive campaigning for the U.S. Senate seats from Georgia, here’s a look at how many votes have already been cast and a comparison of turnout vs. the November election.

    We can count down the days until the voting is done on just two hands now, and let’s hope we don’t have to count much higher until it’s really over.

    Susan Catron

    Break for a moment

    THURSDAY & FRIDAY, Dec. 24-25 And just to get it out our system: This is the Yule Tide edition of The Tide.

    But it’s the most important one: We also celebrate our readers and supporters on this day. So many of you have offered support (moral or monetary or reporting or otherwise) for The Current’s endeavor this year to bring a new approach to journalism in Coastal Georgia. We thank you heartily.

    — The Current staff

    Time change, citizens arrest power among local legislators’ prefiled bills

    State Rep. Carl Gilliard

    WEDNESDAY, Dec. 23 Just in time for the holidays, the Georgia General Assembly has a new website. Instead of two distinct sites, the House and Senate have a unified homepage with plenty of access to documents, calendars and other items citizens might want to see.

    So, if you are trying to figure out what bills might be arriving for each house, you can find them and read them at every edit. So far, you’ll find a handful of prefiled bills from Coastal Georgia legislators including Rep. Carl Gilliard (D-Dist. 167) to repeal citizens arrest powers, rework some excise tax exemptions, create a gang prevention commission, and propose a monument to the Original 33 Black General Assembly members in 1868.

    State Sen. Ben Watson

    Sen. Ben Watson (R-Dist. 1) has been busy, too. He has prefiled two bills to exempt Georgia from daylight saving time and provide for a nonbinding referendum on springing forward, and falling back each year.

    No matter where you come down on that topic, the new site should make it easier to find out how your elected representative voted on various measures, as well. After all, you hired them, so you can check their work.

    — Susan Catron

    And Glynn gets a new D.A.

    TUESDAY, Dec. 22 Write-in candidate and election winner Keith Higgins was sworn in yesterday as the district attorney for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, which includes Glynn, Camden, Wayne, Appling and Jeff Davis counties.

    Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Keith Higgins is sworn into office by Superior Court Judge Stephen D. Kelley. Higgins term begins on January 4, 2021. (Bobby Haven/365° Total Marketing)

    A couple things are noteworthy: Higgins won as a write-in with 52.8% of the vote — not something anyone ever sees in a write-in campaign — and he beat a 10-year incumbent, Jackie Johnson. Voters ousted Johnson after the early investigation and recusal after the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. After a second attorney recused himself, a third prosecutor charged three men with felony murder and aggravated assault. One of the men charged was a longtime investigator for Johnson’s office and is shown on video calling her from the scene.

    Higgins ran a campaign promising “Justice for All.” He takes office Jan. 4.

    Susan Catron

    The shortest day and active citizens

    MONDAY, Dec. 21 Here we are, it’s winter. It’s the one time of year when Coastal Georgians stay inside more than usual. Except that we’ve been doing that since last winter. Good news: It’s the shortest day of the year. 

    All that said, early voters were out today at every polling place — the lines at Southwest Library in Chatham County and the Elections Board on Eisenhower held 50 to 75 people at lunchtime. Editor Meg Coker says her machine at the Savannah Civic Center had already processed 568 ballots before 11:30 a.m. today and there are 12 machines there.

    Just one stack of voting reminders for one address — so far.

    As for encouragement to vote, I had no idea how many people across the country cared about my voting habits — I understand from many of you that you have the same experience.

    While I do make jokes about the ever-growing mail pile, it’s absolutely inspiring to see engaged citizens taking time out to hand write notes to pitch for their candidates or merely tell me to be sure to vote. After all, who hand writes notes any more?

    So, I send sincere thanks for the reminders to my new “friends” Debbie at the Sierra Club in Kentucky, Dave from Eloa Beach in Hawaii, and Ron from somewhere east of Atlanta. And I’m pretty sure the Postal Service folks will be able to buy their own election night pizza AND a new sorting machine from this direct mail onslaught in front of the runoff. 

    — Susan Catron

    Buses roll in

    SUNDAY, Dec. 20 The Democrats’s Senate candidate caravan rolled into town Saturday. Reporter Laura Corley was there to watch take in the crowd who came to see Oscar- and Grammy-winning artist/writer/producer Common and Rev. Raphael Warnock and John Ossoff in Garden City.

    Instead of story telling you what they said, Corley recorded the candidates’ Q&A with reporters after the rally. That way you can see and hear how the reporters worked it for yourself. Here’s the link.

    That’s Laura at center-right in the plaid shirt. 

    Also, today we welcome and thank The Current’s new donors Michele Wiedenhaupt, Anne Linnee, Paul Linnee, Stacey Waldrup, Tim Lindgren, Jerry Connor, Terry Waldrup, Sarah Swan, Jane Hansen, John Bennett, Adam Patterson, David Bloomquist, Elissa Habib, Alice Tisch, Stuart Karle, and Eleanor Hinz Radue. 

    We couldn’t do it without you all — nonprofit is journalism for and by the people.

    – Susan Catron

    Camden County votes early

    SATURDAY, Dec. 19 Reporter Laura Corley headed down to Woodbine today for a look at the only day of early voting for a good number of people in Camden County. She’s working on a story about voter turnout and what it can require. 

    When she got there, the lines were strong and steady outside the Board of Elections office on 4th Street. She sent along this picture to show what the line looked like — but she waited outside at a respectful distance before talking to voters as they came out. 

    I couldn’t help but notice the festive decorations — and the lack of social distancing next to a wall sign reminding people to space out. Either way, it’s good to see so many people ready to do their civic duty. 

    Don’t miss Laura’s story when it’s published: Sign up for our newsletter here.

    – Susan Catron