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: Drastic decline in Savannah murder statistics
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    Murders in Savannah have dropped significantly compared to the same period in each of the last seven years. 

    Only one homicide has been reported to the Savannah Police Department this year, as of May 27. During the same week in 2022, the department had recorded 16 murders. There were 12 reported murders by late May in 2021 and 17 in 2020. 

    These numbers come from the police department’s weekly crime reports. The Chatham County Police Department, which oversees the less-populated and unincorporated parts of the county, has recorded two homicides during the same period each year since 2021, statistics show

    Savannah Assistant Police Chief Robert Gavin credits the change to several factors: using crime data for police to focus on so-called “hotspots” of crime, more community engagement and violence interruption efforts, investment in technologies like ShotSpotter and BriefCam, and increased officer morale. 

    “Trying to pinpoint people that are causing issues in certain areas and removing them is part of that,” Gavin said. “No doubt along with a lot of community engagement.” 

    A 2010 study on “hotspot” or place-based policing, while great at reducing crime in the short-term, does not take into account potential long-term harm to communities of color. A 2021 Brookings Institute report argues economic, aesthetic and workforce investment in a community is a more reliable indicator of the rise and fall of violent crime than typical crime data. 

    Still, in the last year, Savannah funded the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE) division with a $1.3 million budget. The agency administers violence interruption and mediation programming plus youth camps and mentorships to divert youth involved in violence.

    Savannah Police Department
    The Savannah-Chatham Metro Police mobile command vehicle parked in Daffin Park at the SPD Back to School Bash.

    The city also increased funding for the police department’s mental health unit and approved a Cure Violence program for the city. 

    While the murder rate drop is a refreshing statistic, Gavin warned that the onset of summer could mean more crime. The season is typically when more crime occurs. 

    In Savannah, this usually means tourists who leave valuables in their cars and later report those items stolen, according to Gavin. Many tourists leave guns in their cars, he said, and inadvertently assist in future violent crime.

    Gavin said 100 guns have been stolen out of cars in the city so far this year.

    “For those wanting to steal,” Gavin said, “Our population during that summer time with a lot of visitors, a lot of tourists makes it a very target-rich environment.”

    The Tide brings news and observations from The Current staff.

  • Carter tiptoes through debt ceiling saga
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    With a deal to raise the debt ceiling in exchange for spending limits poised to come up for a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives tomorrow, President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy are facing rebellions from the flanks of their political parties.

    But don’t expect Coastal Georgia’s congressman, Rep. Earl “Buddy” Carter, to join the brewing far-right revolt against the deal. In January, when McCarthy struggled through 15 rounds of voting before winning election as speaker, Carter stuck with him.

    Still, Carter’s route to a likely “yea” vote for the Biden-McCarthy plan illustrates how the five-term congressman from Pooler navigates thorny political controversies.

    On social media and in media interview after media interview, Carter repeatedly described as “reasonable” the House bill that served as the basis for McCarthy’s negotiations with the White House. For instance, he tweeted May 5:

    “The debate right now is not about whether to raise the debt ceiling. The debate is whether to do so responsibly [italics his], which shouldn’t even be a question. That’s why @HouseGOP passed a bill to pay our debts while protecting taxpayer dollars and growing the economy.

    Under the tweet appears the graphic: “A Responsible Debt Ceiling Increase: LIMIT Washington Spending, SAVE Taxpayers Money, GROW the Economy.”

    It’s difficult for most voters to disagree with limiting federal spending, saving taxpayers money, and growing economy.

    But nowhere does Carter mention that the Limit, Save, Grow Act of 2023 withdraws money that President Biden won to bolster the Internal Revenue Service and its efforts to collect taxes from tax cheats who earn more than $400,000.

    Nor does he mention how the plan scuttles Biden’s student-loan forgiveness program, adds new work requirements for programs like Medicaid and repeals clean-energy initiatives.

    Offering few, potentially political troublesome, specifics on policy is nothing new for Carter.

    During his reelection campaign last year, Carter touted the GOP’s “Commitment to America,” a thinly veiled knock-off of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” circa 1994 (“build an economy that’s strong, a nation that’s safe, a future that’s built on freedom, and a government that’s accountable”).

    Of course, like the goals of the Limit, Save, and Grow Act, these are rostrums that few voters, including Democrats, reject. The key question was how Carter proposed to achieve those laudable goals. He seldom spelled it out. It wasn’t until after he was safely reelected that he did so.

    Carter’s heavy reliance on talking points provided by GOP and conservative organizations in Washington, at the expense of actually setting forth detailed policy prescriptions that voters can assess, can sometimes go awry.

    In a letter to the editor of the Savannah Morning News last weekreprinted in the congressman’s weekly newsletter on Sunday — Carter accused Biden of falsely claiming that the debt ceiling bill passed by the House of Representatives in late April would cut veterans benefits.  

    As proof that the White House was misleading at best and lied at worst, Carter cited a Washington Post fact-check. Indeed, the fact-check says the figures on veterans benefits used by Biden and administration officials “give an illusion of accuracy to made-up math.” 

    But Carter gave only a partial accounting of the fact check, as its title showed: “White House touts illusory ‘VA cuts’ as GOP ducks budget specifics.” The story points out for Republicans, the math isn’t good under the House budget plan, which Carter voted for.

    “Department of Homeland Security spending would barely increase from Biden’s proposal, while State Department funding would plunge 53 percent, Department of Housing and Urban Development would plummet 48 percent, the Education Department would fall 39 percent, and the Department of Health and Human Services would drop 37 percent. Imagine the field day the White House could have if Republicans cast votes with these kinds of numbers.”

    The fact-check concludes:

    “Neither side covers itself with glory here. The White House acts as if the numbers it conjured up are real, when in fact veterans’ benefits are unlikely to be cut, especially at such magnitudes.

    “Yet for all their complaints about the White House spin, Republicans have not confronted the consequences of the brutal Hunger Games scenario they have arranged for government programs that do not include the military or veterans.”

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

  • Georgia’s coast provides a critical refuge for this shorebird
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    Perched in the front seat of the DNR helicopter about 300 feet above the south end of Sea Island, biologist Fletcher Smith spied the first flock of the birds he’d come out to count on this Monday morning in May.

    “That was in the neighborhood of 2,000 red knots,” he said. “It’s the first time we’ve ever had so many on Sea Island.”

    Behind Smith, Shorebird Tech Sam Murray slid open the helicopter door and photographed the birds to verify the count.

    Red knots fatten up on Georgia beaches before migrating north to the Arctic to raise young.

    The flight will document the number of red knots in Coastal Georgia this spring. Once thought of as an important refueling stop on the red knots’ long distance migration to the Arctic, Georgia’s 100-mile coast has become even more significant for these birds with the understanding that most of them don’t stop again before they nest and raise their young above the Hudson Bay.

    That marathon flight requires the robin-sized birds to bulk up to make it in one go. They get noticeably fatter as they prepare to migrate.

    Researchers used to believe the Delaware Bay, between Delaware and New Jersey, was the biggest key to red knot success. They thought that all the red knots stopped there to feed.

    “But now we know that that’s not the case,” Smith said. Red knots don’t all overwinter or stop off in Georgia, but most of the ones that do leave on a nonstop flight north. “They’re leaving (Georgia) and going straight to the Arctic region,” Smith said. “Seventy percent, or seven out of 10 that we’ve seen. It’s counter to what everybody thought. Everybody thought that all the birds went to the Delaware Bay.”

    Red knots feeding
    Red knots feeding

    Red knots are a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is seeking to expand the area considered “critical habitat” for these birds, including the addition of two areas Smith’s research suggested: Cockspur Island and Daymark Island beaches near the mouth of the Savannah River in Chatham County.

    The early May helicopter survey began in St. Simons and took the researchers up to Hilton Head to count these 8-inch-long, ruddy breasted shorebirds. Some of them overwinter here and other overwinter as far south as Chile and Argentina, but they stop in Coastal Georgia on what can be as much as a 9,300 mile migration to the Arctic.

    Smith knows at a glance if the specks on the sand are red knots. He automatically rules out any birds that flash white breast feathers.

    The red knots surprised Smith on the survey, not feeding in places he expected them, but turning up in some less likely spots. Equally surprising was their food. Smith expected the red knots to be gorging on horseshoe crab eggs in preparation for their long-distance flight to the Arctic where they lay their eggs. But the horseshoe crabs weren’t spawning yet. Smith blamed the colder than normal water temperatures for a late spawn.

    Instead of horseshoe crab eggs, the red knots are eating the tiny pastel-colored coquina clams that live at the water’s edge. It’s not the birds’ preference for fueling up, but the coquina will do the job, Smith said.

    DNR shorebird crew by helicopter
    From left, DNR Wildlife Biologist Fletcher Smith, Shorebird Tech Sam Murray of the shorebird conservation group Manomet, and DNR Capt. Jaye Bridwell

    Continuing their survey, Smith and Murray find hundreds more red knots on St. Catherines Bar and Ossabaw. Then Ogeechee Bar yields another big flock of 2,000. There’s more up by Little Tybee. The teams counts finds close an estimated 5,840 red knots in all. Murray’s photos will be used to truth that number.

    “We’ll go back through with a computer and dot out every red knot,” Smith said.

    Red knots on the beach
    DNR researchers photograph red knots from the air then use a computer program to put a red dot on each bird and count the dots.

    Other helicopter surveys from collaborating agencies farther north will help stitch together a more complete picture of the overall red knot population. There are an estimated 42,000 rufa red knot, the subspecies that migrates along the East Coast.

    The helicopter survey makes the work efficient. Doing the same survey by boat would take more than a week, Smith said.

    “If you wanted to do it all in one day, it would probably take 10 boats and 20 people, and access to vehicles on every island.”

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

  • Underwater robot deployed to aid endangered right whales
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    With spring well underway, the North Atlantic right whales that migrated to Georgia to give birth here over the winter have migrated back north to their feeding grounds off New England and Canada. Researchers know from aerial surveys that at least 16 calves were born in the 2022-23 season.

    But scientists don’t just look for whales, they listen for them, too. And this year they added an underwater robot to the listening platforms in Georgia.

    In late January, Skidaway Institute of Oceanography scientist Catherine Edwards deployed a torpedo-shaped glider called Argus to eavesdrop on these endangered whales as they swam near the port of Savannah. Edwards paired up with University of South Carolina researcher Erin Meyer-Gutbrod, who led the team that listened to the recordings in near real time. 

    “Catherine is sort of the genius driving the glider around,” Meyer-Gutbrod said. “And we’re the ones that are actually trying to parse out noise from whale detection.”

    There are only about 340 North Atlantic right whales remaining. Starting around November each year, the adult females migrate from their summer feeding grounds up north to reach their winter calving grounds off Georgia and Florida.

    Right whales are nicknamed “urban whales” for their propensity to hug the shoreline of the East Coast where so much of the U.S. population resides. As they migrate, they run a dangerous gauntlet of shipping lanes, recreational boats and heavily fished regions. In just the last six years, at least 11 right whales have been killed by ship strikes. Two more were seriously injured.

    That’s where they eavesdropping underwater robots come in. Edwards and Meyer-Gutbrod are listening for whales so they can alert shippers and recreational boaters to their presence.

    Vessels bigger than 65 feet are already required to slow to 10 knots in certain areas when it’s calving season. Voluntary speed restrictions are in place, too. But all are routinely ignored. Studies have shown a less than 10 percent compliance for ships coming in to the Savannah port.

    And those same aerial surveys that identify newborn calves by crisscrossing Georgia’s near shore waters from about mid-November to April share whale sightings with mariners. But that information is expensive to produce and less than comprehensive. Bad weather grounds the planes and the whales can only be sighted when they surface.

    Ears in the water are a possible solution. Edwards deployed her robot from Jan. 30 to Feb. 13 this year. The yellow glider zig-zagged up and down through the water by changing its buoyancy and center of gravity. Without a motor, it’s relatively quiet, making it ideal for whale listening. Equipped with a satellite phone, the glider surfaced every four hours to transmit recorded data to base stations on land.

    Right whale and calf off little St. Simons
    Archipeligo (right whale catalog #3370) and her new calf swim off Little St. Simons on Dec. 8, 2022.

    “During that deployment, we got eight detections of right whales that were verified by our team on shore, which is really, really, really cool,” Edwards said.

    A hydrophone on the glider picks up the sounds and transmits them to a web site called Robots 4 Whales at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. A machine learning algorithm sorts out what it identifies as whale sounds. Meyer-Gutbrod and three of her graduate students verified the whale calls.

    Along with the 15 days’ worth of glider-detected whale calls, there are stationary hydrophones attached to buoys collecting data around the clock for the past year.

    The scientists are comparing the effectiveness of the mobile and moored hydrophones and trying to work out how far away from the robot a whale can be detected. They’d eventually like to use these tools to help alert ship captains in real time when whales are nearby.

    “We’re hoping that if we alert vessel captains in real time it’s going to increase the likelihood that they’re going to comply with the vessel speed,” Meyer-Gutbrod said.

    (A cell phone app called WhaleAlert already can be used to alert vessel captains that whales have been sighted or heard recently in an area.)

    Challenges abound. Among them is that is that mother calf pairs are believed to be pretty quiet.

    “First of all, she’s mostly communicating with her calf, who’s right next to her, you know, like touching distance, because they’re constantly nursing,” Meyer-Gutbrod said. “So there’s no reason to project their voice. But I would also imagine, and we don’t have any way to prove it, but that the mom, with this vulnerable newborn doesn’t really want to draw a lot of attention to herself.”

    Gray's Reef
    Catherine Edwards

    There’s also a concern that mariners could misinterpret a lack of detected whale calls to mean the whales aren’t present. That’s not necessarily the case.

    “We can’t tell you when they’re not there,” Edwards said. “There’s evidence that right whales go quiet, sometimes, related to human activity.”

    Calving season wrapped up in April with 16 calves born. One of those is already known to have died. Researchers suggest more than 20 calves must be born each year to keep the population going.

    “Unfortunately, they’re not reproducing fast enough to counteract the harmful effects humans are having on the population,” Edwards said. “So, each year they decline and decline.”

    But the listening work has already proven useful, Meyer-Gutbrod said.

    “We’re doing the analysis for a buoy just offshore of Norfolk, Virginia. We heard some right whales pretty unexpectedly a few weeks ago because usually they’re thought to be back up north by now,” she said earlier in May. “And so NOAA instituted a temporary slow down zone in the area around that buoy.”

    The researchers also want to study recent changes in whale migration patterns. A decline in the food supplies during the summer months has triggered a shift in the North Atlantic right whale’s foraging grounds from the Gulf of Maine northward to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. While surveys have documented this shift, scientists have not yet assessed its impact on winter migration patterns.

    They expect to have their glider back in the water in December.

    The project is funded by a $196,847 grant from the Broad Reach Fund. The researchers are aiming to redeploy the glider in December after the right whales return to Georgia for the calving season.

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

  • Horses of Cumberland file suit
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    The horses of Cumberland Island are plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed earlier this month against Georgia and federal officials. The 65-page complaint filed April 12 in U.S. District Court in Atlanta alleges the defendants have allowed the horses to suffer at the same time the horses themselves have damaged the island and its native species.

    The estimated 140-170 feral horses on the island receive no food, water, or veterinary care. The mares, which are continually pregnant or nursing, are especially prone to malnourishment. The suit seeks to force the horses’ removal from Cumberland, and to compel the Equine Division of the Georgia Department of Agriculture to make sure they’re cared for humanely until they can be removed.

    “For over a quarter century, Defendants — each of which have varying
    degrees of responsibility for management of Cumberland’s natural resources and
    wildlife — have permitted less-than-humane conditions to be imposed on the
    Island’s feral horses,” the complaint states. “For over a quarter century, the Defendants have known of the destructive impacts to the island’s resources caused by feral horses.”

    Carol Ruckdeschel
    Carol Ruckdeschel

    The horses are joined as plaintiffs in the suit by the nonprofit Georgia Equine Rescue League, the nonprofit Georgia Horse Council, Cumberland resident and naturalist Carol Ruckdeschel, and author Will Harlan, who wrote a 2015 New York Times bestseller about Ruckdeschel. Athens-based Attorney Hal Wright and Madison-based C. Wilson DuBose are representing the plaintiffs.

    Wright sent a demand letter to federal and state officials in late August threatening to sue if the service didn’t start managing the herd. The agencies were not moved.

    The suit names as defendants Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Director of the NPS South Atlantic and Gulf Region Mark Foust, Cumberland Island National Seashore Superintendent Gary Ingram, Georgia Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Williams, and Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tyler Harper.

    The horses, descendants of domesticated horses brought to the island at various times, have trouble finding enough to eat and drink on an island covered in salt marsh and maritime forest. Their efforts to forage degrade the marshes and sand dunes and harm threatened and endangered native species including loggerhead sea turtles and piping plover.

    Wright, the horses’ counsel, declined to comment on the suit. None of the defendants responded immediately to a request for comment. The federal officials named as defendants have 60 days to respond, while state officials have 21 days.

    The Tide brings news and observations from The Current staff.

  • U.S., Georgia face another milestone in battle over abortion rights
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    Another milestone in the national battle over abortion occurs tomorrow, with the expiration of a U.S. Supreme Court injunction that bars restrictions on access to a drug used in medication abortions from going into effect.

    It isn’t known when the high court will rule on the issue, but even temporarily barring the use of the drug, mifepristone, while the case is decided has become a legal and political hot potato.

    The U.S. Justice Department, acting on behalf of Food and Drug Administration, opposes any hiatus, saying mifepristone has been “safely used by millions of Americans over more than two decades” and has served as “an alternative to surgical abortion for women who choose to lawfully terminate their early pregnancies.”

    With access to abortion now looming as a top issue in next year’s presidential election, it wasn’t surprising, then, that members of the U.S. Congress entered the fray.

    Last week, 253 Democrats — including Georgia Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock — signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief condemning a lower court ruling by Texas Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk earlier this month that voided the FDA’s approval of mifepristone in 2000.

    As Democrats moved to ensure that access to mifepristone is fully restored, 69 Republicans in Congress, including 58 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, signed onto another friend-of-the-court brief supporting Kacsmaryk’s ruling.

    Missing from the list of signatories on that brief was Georgia First District Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter.

    Carter’s absence is noteworthy. Coastal Georgia’s congressman has been an outspoken opponent of abortion, with the national anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List awarding him an A+ last year for his efforts to protect unborn children and their mothers.

    And after the Supreme Court last June overturned Roe v. Wade, reversing nearly five decades of precedent that had established a national right to abortion access, Carter declared: “Life wins!”

    Carter’s office didn’t return a phone call requesting comment on the congressman’s apparent reluctance to sign on to the Republican-led brief.

    Partisan politics could be a factor. A recent public opinion survey suggests that banning medication abortions could hurt GOP chances in next year’s elections.

    According to recent polling by the Public Religion Research Institute, 72% of Americans who oppose “laws that make it illegal to use or receive through the mail FDA-approved drugs for a medical abortion” and 63% oppose “laws that ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually around the sixth week of pregnancy.”

    Besides political and electoral considerations, another consideration at play may be that Carter, a pharmacist, fears that judicial intervention in the FDA’s approval of drugs sets a bad precedent that will weaken drug safety. 

    Still another consideration may stem from Carter’s longtime ties to the pharmaceutical industry as a lawmaker in Atlanta and Washington, after earning millions operating a chain of pharmacies in the Savannah-area and serving local health-care institutions.

    More than 400 executives from Pfizer, Biogen and other pharmaceutical companies last week signed an open letter condemning Kacsmaryk’s ruling, saying it “ignores decades of scientific and legal precedent.”

    That’s a view that Carter no doubt takes seriously. He describes himself as a “health care professional” on his congressional website and is widely viewed on Capitol Hill as a champion of the pharmaceutical industry. His three fundraising committees — Buddy Carter for Congress, Buddy Pac, Team Buddy — have also received hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from that industry.

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

  • Records show Pinova stumbles in complying with regulations
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    A fire at the Pinova facility in Brunswick on Saturday sent a cloud of black smoke into the sky and forced the evacuation of nearby residents.

    While the smoke was an obvious offense to air quality in the area, an examination of regulatory records reveals it was not the facility’s only one.

    The Brunswick Pinova facility is regulated as a “major sources” air polluter, defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a stationary source that can emit 10 tons per year or more of a hazardous air pollutant or 25 tons per year or more of a combination of hazardous air pollutants.

    Since 2018, Georgia regulators at the Environmental Protection Division have undertaken four formal enforcement actions against the facility for violations of the Clean Air Act, resulting in $229,000 in fines over the last 12 months.

    The largest fine, of $185,000, was issued in April 2022. EPD documents indicate the fine was prompted by record keeping and maintenance failures, including failing to submit reports, failing to keep records up to date, failing to repair and/or confirm repair of leaking valves and pumps, and not calibrating instruments.

    These types of failures make it hard to trust the self-reported information regulators use to assess if a company is operating within the limits of its permits. But EPD hasn’t found evidence of excess air pollution, EPD spokeswoman Sara Lips said.

    “Compliance issues identified for Pinova in the recent past have not resulted in emissions that exceed allowable limits, although test results are pending for one Consent Order that might determine otherwise,” she wrote in an email.

    The fines imposed on Pinova were the highest for air violations in Glynn County over the last five years. But they may not have served as a deterrent, said Glynn Environmental Coalition Executive Director Rachael Thompson.

    “That’s one of the huge problems when it comes to Clean Water Act violations, Clean Air Act violations, is companies are more likely to just violate the laws and pay the fines, because it’s cheaper than fixing whatever the problem is,” she said.

    In its reporting in its Enforcement and Compliance History Online, or ECHO, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists the facility’s compliance status as “High Priority Violation,” and notes Pinova in Brunswick has been out of compliance in 11 of the last 12 quarters.

    Complaints and response

    The EPD’s Lips said the division is on it.

    “The Air Branch has been rigorously pursuing Pinova’s air compliance which is reflected in corresponding enforcement,” she wrote in an email.

    Glynn Environmental Coalition helped get the ball rolling on air investigations, Thompson said. Piggybacking on a popular “Smell something, Tell something” Facebook page, the nonprofit posted an air quality reporting portal on its website for residents to complain about factory or other emissions.

    “We had almost 100 air quality complaints get filed between December 2020 and February 2021. And, and when those complaints are filed, the state investigates. They go on site, and they investigate.”

    The state staff working on Pinova’s air compliance is not the same staff that is actively investigating the cause of the fire. 

    “EPD will evaluate the situation again post-fire, if the Pinova facility failed to do something in violation of their Risk Management Plan this may result in further enforcement and potential fines,” Lips said.  “With respect to the facility’s air compliance, the cause of the fire has not yet been identified as noncompliance with their air permit or regulations, although the investigation is ongoing.”

    Lips said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency distributed air monitors around the perimeter of the plant to test and monitor air quality following the blaze. 

    “There were seven monitors at various locations engaged overnight and no levels were registered to call for public safety concerns,” she wrote in an email. 

    The facility and neighbors

    Pinova processes pine tree stumps into a variety of products including resins, rosins, waxes and gums that are used in the manufacture of many household products including adhesives, chewing gum, paper, cosmetics and foods. It’s owned by the French company DRT (Dérivés Résiniques et Terpéniques) based in a pine-growing region of France. DRT in turn is owned by Firmenich International SA, a company based in Switzerland that describes itself as a “global leader in the flavor and fragrance industry.”

    DRT operates a sister plant in Rincon, north of Savannah.

    The facility’s compliance status related to water pollution is listed as “Violation identified” on ECHO. No formal enforcements actions are listed, but there have been six informal actions over the last five years. The facility is listed as out of compliance with the Clean Water Act in nine of the last 12 quarters.

    About 7,000 people live within one mile of the Pinova facility, according the EPA analysis. Seventy percent of them are Black and nearly half have a household income of less than $25,000 a year.

    Ohio native Homer Yaryan started pine products factory at the site in 1911 after he patented his method for purifying wood rosin from pine stumps. He sold to the Hercules Powder Company in 1920. Over the ensuing decades, Hercules began producing other products from pine stumps, including toxaphene, a cancer-causing pesticide that the company ceased producing in 1980 and which was banned globally in 2001.

    Toxaphene contamination contributed to making the area of and around the Pinova facility a Superfund hazardous waste site. Cleanup is ongoing. The ECHO site lists Pinova’s compliance status as “significant noncomplier,” but the state has not issued fines or undertaken a formal enforcement action in the last five years.

    Similarly, ECHO lists Pinova’s compliance status for water pollution as “violation identified,” but there has been no formal enforcement action nor fines over the last five years.

    Mike Crews, Pinova’s senior compliance manager, did not respond to a request for comment.

  • The Tide: Did lawmakers address your top issues?
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    Last week, we looked at the performance of Savannah-area lawmakers during the latest session of the Georgia legislature, and compared it with the priorities they spelled out before it convened.

    Now it’s your turn.

    When readers of The Current were asked before the session’s start to rank your top legislative preferences from a list of nine candidates, you rated “climate resilience” and “education funding” as your top priorities.

    That was followed — in order — by “rural health care access,” “mental health beds and staffing,” and “revising runoff, ballot access law.”

    With the latest session of the Georgia General Assembly now in the rearview mirror and with the results of that informal, unscientific survey in mind, we now look back and ask: How did lawmakers do on the issues you said you cared most about?

    As our previous recap of the legislative session suggested, local lawmakers, with a few notable exceptions, had little success in achieving their declared legislative priorities or making headway on them.

    Much the same, it seems, can be said of how the legislature fared when it came to the priorities that those Current readers who responded to our survey deemed most important. Here’s a roundup of the actions they took during the session related to your top five priorities. Appended to it is a detailed description of the survey and its results.

    ‘Climate resilience’

    Measures that boost “climate resilience” — and prevent environmental degradation, in general — stumbled during the legislative session.

    A bill to protect the Okefenokee Swamp from mining never received a vote by the House Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Rep. Lynn Smith (R-Newnan).

    Co-sponsors of the bill included Coastal Georgia Reps. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville), Jesse Petrea (R-Savannah), Ron Stephens (R-Savannah), and Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon), but mining supporters hinted at a lawsuit if lawmakers passed the bill.

    A resolution to establish a study committee to evaluate the value of the Okefenokee as the continent’s largest blackwater swamp also failed.

    Boosted by $135 million allocated to Georgia under President Biden’s Infrastructure Law to help cover the costs of installing charging stations, Gov. Brian Kemp says he aims to make Georgia the electric mobility capital of America.

    That caused environmentalists to scratch their heads after the Republican-dominated legislature approved a bill to charge taxes on electricity for charging electric vehicles.

    They called the so-called “juice tax” a double tax on in-state EV drivers; the bill’s supporters said it was to help maintain roads and bridges.

    A Senate bill proposed by nine Democratic state senators that would ban plastic bags at grocery stores and convenience stores went nowhere, as did a bill that would address how Georgia Power compensates residential solar customers for the electricity they put onto the grid from their solar panels.

    ‘Education funding’

    Under the headline “Georgia’s Education System Second to None,” House Speaker Jon Burns (R-Newington) authored an op-ed in The Effingham Herald in November urging support for bills expanding civics education, parental rights, and transparency of school board proceedings.

    It’s unclear whether he anticipated budget cuts to higher education. Nevertheless, the $32.4 billion budget approved by the House and Senate included $66 million in cuts to Savannah State University, Georgia Southern, and the 24 other schools that comprise the University System of Georgia. Chancellor Sonny Perdue called the cuts “incredibly disappointing.”

    A bill backed by Kemp and Burns that would have established a $6,500 annual subsidy for students who left a low-performing public school for a private school or for home schooling won decisively in the House but lost by an 89-85 vote in the Senate, with 12 Republicans joining Democrats in opposing the measure.

    Supporters of the bill said it served to expand school choice; the Georgia Budget Policy Institute, which opposed the measure, said it “threatened to funnel money away from public schools at a moment when school districts are wrestling with an aging bus fleet, staff turnover, and skyrocketing State Health Benefit Plan costs.”

    Two other bills that also would serve to subsidize private schools also foundered.

    One sought to raise the cap on a tax credit-funded private school tuition subsidy program to $200 million but never got a hearing. Another passed the House but stalled in the Senate. It would have raised the current $120 million cap by $10 million.

    One education-related bill survived the legislative gauntlet and was sent to the governor’s desk for his signature: literacy.

    Co-sponsored by Rep. Carl Gilliard (D-Savannah), the Georgia Literacy Act would require schools to revamp how they teach reading in kindergarten through third grade, and it would overhaul teacher certification and training. A related measure would establish a 30-member council of political appointees to help implement it.

    ‘Rural health care access,’ ‘mental health beds, staffing’

    A bill addressing the shortage of mental health workers and the lack of information-sharing among agencies that deal with clients with mental illness overwhelmingly passed in the House but failed to get a vote in Senate Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by Sen. Ben Watson (R-Savannah). Lt. Gov. Burt Jones said some senators recoiled at the estimated $72 million it would cost to implement the bill.

    The bill fell victim in a struggle between Jones and House leaders over a measure he supported to pave the way for more hospitals to be built in less-populated counties that could have financially benefited his family’s business. He ultimately abandoned his effort to pass that legislation this year.

    Wrote Jones in an op-ed in The Atlanta Journal Constitution: “Local control and access to healthcare are two topics that seem to be a priority for those serving under the Gold Dome, that is, unless special interests and crony corporations get involved.”

    ‘Revising runoff, ballot access law’

    A measure to end runoffs failed, leaving Georgia one of only three states in the nation, along with Louisiana and Mississippi, that requires runoffs when candidates fall short of winning a majority in general elections.

    But the Republican-led legislature pushed through legislation that bars local officials from seeking nearly all third-party funding to help cover the costs to cash-starved local jurisdictions of running elections.

    The bill’s supporters called outside funding a “scheme” to privatize elections; critics called it unnecessary. “Some Republicans have argued, without evidence, that money given to elections offices has improperly influenced electoral outcomes,” GPB’s Stephen Fowler writes.  

    Lawmakers also approved a bill that overhauls the Ware County Board of Elections — a move that voting rights groups say could result in Black voters losing representation on the board and establish a worrying precedent for state intervention in the actions of election boards elsewhere in the state.

    However, there was little controversy over a bill that ensures that employees can take time off to vote during early voting or on election day. It easily passed both the House and the Senate.

    The survey

    The unscientific survey asked The Current’s newsletter readers to rank nine issues on a scale of one to seven, with seven indicating a top legislative priority and one indicating “not a big deal now.” The issues to be ranked were “education funding”; “state taxes”; “legalized gambling”; “rural health care access”; “public safety”; “mental health beds, staffing”; “electric vehicle charging access”; “revising runoff, ballot access law”; and “climate resilience.”

    Current readers also were given an opportunity to write in their priorities that weren’t on the list. A substantial number of readers (33) took that opportunity, identifying as a priority “expanding Medicaid”; “improving roads, bridges, and other infrastructure”; “school choice”; “term limits”; and “maternal health care.” One reader’s top priority for Georgia lawmakers was uncomplicated: “Simply telling the truth.”

    Survey results

    Climate resilience” was the preeminent concern of most respondents, with 53 out of 82 respondents giving it a seven, the highest possible rating.

    That was followed by “education funding” (43 out of 83 respondents); “rural health care access” (42 out of 83 respondents); “mental health beds, staffing” (33 out of 83 respondents); and “revising runoff, ballot access law” (31 out of 82 respondents).

    Less important were legalized gambling (six out of 81), state taxes (eight out of 83), and electric vehicle charging access (15 out of 83). Public safety hovered in the middle of the list, with 28 out of 81 respondents ranking it as a top priority.

    A slightly different picture of readers’ priorities are ranked according to those that received a five or above, mental health was a top priority (72 out of 83 respondents), followed by rural health care (69 out of 83 respondents), and education (68 out of 83 respondents). Environmental issues were close behind (63 out of 82 respondents).

    It’s noteworthy that the drop-off for those who gave “climate resilience” a seven versus those who gave them a six was a whopping 47%. That suggests that if respondents ranked environmental issues at all, they usually gave them the highest possible ranking — an indication of just how passionate many readers of The Current are about the environment.

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

  • Slideshow: Pembroke draws the curious as Murdaugh household items go to auction
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    PEMBROKE — The unassuming beige warehouse off old Highway 204 in Southeast Georgia is not quite in the middle of nowhere, but it’s close. A few miles to the west, the state’s oldest fruit cake company churns out sticky old-fashioned delights. To the east, what’s soon to be the Peach State’s biggest car plant will catapult the region to a clean, green manufacturing future.

    Last Thursday, however, the Pembroke warehouse owned by Liberty Auction showcased a slice of contemporary life. Several hundred people — true crime fanatics, looky-loos and those whose taste lean toward hunting chic — gathered to peruse souvenirs of lives turned putrid by crime, corruption and greed. On the block were the décor, furniture and books from Moselle, the 1700-acre hunting lodge that was once the jewel in the crown of the family Murdaugh.

    The crowds came in equal parts to gawk, admire and moralize in the time-honored American tradition, the feeding frenzy that erupts when a wealthy man thought above the law is brought low. Alex Murdaugh, scion to the family that for generations ran Hampton County, South Carolina, was convicted in early March in the double homicide of his wife and son at Moselle on June 7, 2021. He has been indicted on dozens of other crimes, including fraud and embezzlement. He maintains his innocence for the murders.

    Entire families, complete with dogs and babies, braved the heat in the name of flatware and Seiko watches. Phones were out en masse as people recorded, live-streamed, and FaceTimed friends and family during the auction.

    Throughout the cavernous warehouse lay the detritus of a bygone, active family. Piles of sports and hunting equipment stacked high on racks; glittery holiday decorations covered table tops. Folded clothing with family names written inside filled boxes. Fishing rods, tackle boxes, and bicycles lined up near stacks of holiday-themed dishware and baseball-playing ceramic Santa figurines. The jumble of indistinctive bric-a-brac prompted several patrons to wonder aloud, “where exactly did the stolen money go?”

    Among the crowds, dozens of people carried the yellow slips of paper that the auction house used as bidding paddles. But those potential buyers were outnumbered by a mob who wandered around the tables in packs, gossiping about the homicides and the extent of the alleged crimes that the Murdaugh patriarch has not yet been found guilty of. They were ghoulishly up to date with the names of other unsolved deaths now attached to the family name: Mallory Beach, Stephen Smith, and Gloria Satterfield.

    Some folks had come from several states away, making the day trip to Georgia just to see the auction. A group of women in University of Georgia gear whispered in faux hushed tones about their own personal connection to the Murdaugh family. One retold a story about how vexing it was to be hounded by a news journalist who wanted permission to publish one of her photos. Had she let them? Well, yes, of course, she had.

    A delightfully eccentric and enthusiastic buyer came in the form of Phillip Jennings, III, the owner of Broomsedge Rod & Gun lodge. Outfitted in the off-duty sportsman style often favored by the Murdaugh patriarch, Jennings had an eternal grin while in hot pursuit of conversation pieces for his rural lodges. How had he done this? Why, with a friend and a cocktail, of course.

    Over countless voices, only the trill of the experienced auctioneers broke through the din of conversation.

    Auctioneers and other staff worked feverishly to sell off the tables of furnishings that stretched across two large, connected rooms. Buyers stood at attention, hovering near their potential treasures. Spectators watched from the sidelines at two snack bars, adding to the carnival atmosphere.

    People spoke animatedly about the nature of the relationship between certain items and the murderer himself. To wit: boxes of spent shotgun shells and old law books initialed “RAM.”

    As the afternoon progressed, prices for Murdaugh memento mori climbed. Decoy ducks that retail for under $50 sold for hundreds, while guns and other weapons from the former family home sold for thousands of dollars.

    A small cheer went up through the room when a pair of Texas longhorns went for $10,000.

    A set of brown leather sofas drew particular interest, as they had often been featured in the family photos shown day after day during the national broadcast of the murder trial. Mr. Jennings, the hunting lodge owner, became the new owner, spending more than $30,000 for the ultimate conversation piece.

    Total profit generated from the auction was not yet known — but all money will be paid out according to the same court-approved settlement that dictated the terms of the sale of Moselle itself. The property sold this year for $3.9 million. It is anticipated that Buster Murdaugh, Alex’s only living child, will pocket approximately $500,000 from the sale of his former home, with the rest going to pay his family debts and legal fees.

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

  • Carter grills TikTok CEO
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    In his weekly newsletter, Coastal Georgia Rep. Buddy Carter describes last Thursday as “one of the most intense days” he’s ever experienced in Washington.

    That’s saying something for the congressman from Pooler, who during his five terms in the U.S. House of Representatives has witnessed plenty of political dramas, not least two impeachments, an attempted insurrection and most recently, in January, an agonizing 15 rounds of voting to elect a new speaker of the House.

    The occasion for the Thursday’s dramatics was a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, during which Carter and other members of the panel, both Republican and Democrat, grilled the CEO of TikTok, the video app that the company estimates is used by 150 million Americans.

    In his questioning of TikTok’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew, Carter accused the Chinese Communist Party of using the app to wage psychological warfare against American children.

    He also demanded to know how many children had died from TikTok “challenges,” in which users are urged to create videos that the app’s creators hope will encourage them to join a discussion or interact with their contacts. Behind Carter as he questioned Chew was a poster bearing the caption, “Deadly TikTok Challenges.”

    But the congressman didn’t succeed in persuading Chew to disclose how many U.S. children purportedly have died because of TikTok challenges. Nor did he offer an estimate himself.

    Asked by Carter if TikTok was taking steps to curb harmful videos, Chew said pernicious uses of the internet were an industry-wide challenge (read: Meta, Apple, Google, Microsoft), one not solely limited to his company.

    By the end of the often melodramatic, five-hour hearing, there appeared to be no new evidence to support lawmakers’ unsupported claims that the Chinese government has used TikTok to access Americans’ user data or promote government propaganda, though that hardly allays suspicions that Beijing is using the app to spy

    Still, the video of Carter’s sometimes brusque, intentionally melodramatic questioning of Chew went viral. So did critiques of it.

    A young woman whose photo appeared on Carter’s poster and whom the congressman described as a victim of TikTok manipulation called him out for misusing her photo and misrepresenting facts. Elsewhere, he was mocked for repeatedly suggesting during his questioning of Chew that TikTok uses the cameras in mobile phones to collect users’ biometric data — in particular, how users’ eyes dilate while viewing a video. TikTok doesn’t collect such data, Chew said.

    On Monday, the Georgia General Assembly passed a measure banning TikTok on all state-owned devices. But legislating a federal nationwide ban on the app won’t be easy.

    There are First Amendment issues. There are political issues and risks inherent in alienating what TikTok officials say are the 150 million U.S. users of the app, most of them young. The Biden administration has urged TikTok’s Chinese owners to sell their stakes in the company. But the company has refused to divest, and senior U.S. officials reportedly don’t think they have the legal authority to ban TikTok without an act of Congress.

    There’s also a contradiction at the core of the demand by Carter and other conservative Republican lawmakers who condemn Washington overreach yet want the federal government to step in to protect children from the alleged harm caused by TikTok and perform a role that parents cannot — or will not — do.

    But at least for Carter, curbing TikTok may not be the entire point of last week’s hearing and his often brusque exchange with the company’s CEO, during which he appeared more interested in making declarations than eliciting information.

    Carter knows his core constituency, and how well calling attention to China and the alleged threats it poses to the U.S. now go down. At recent meetings of local GOP groups, including the annual convention of the county GOP, anti-China declarations have drawn the most enthusiastic applause.

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

  • Brunswick chemical exposure testing underway
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    Paul Christian has lived in Glynn County for 43 years. He’s calculated that in that time he’s eaten three quarters of a ton of seafood, most of it caught in the area.

    As a marine biologist working for the University of Georgia’s Marine Extension Service he was well aware the Glynn County is home to four Superfund sites and that the Department of Natural Resources has issued warnings about eating seafood from some local waters.

    So when Emory University researchers in partnership with Rebuilding Together Glynn County and other local organizations put out a call for volunteers to give a blood sample and answer demographic questions for a chemical exposure study, Christian was there.

    Noah Scovronick, assistant professor in the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University and a co-leader of the study, hand a consent form to study participant Paul Christian.
    Noah Scovronick, assistant professor in the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University and a co-leader of the study, hand a consent form to study participant Paul Christian.

    He wanted to find out more about his own exposure as well as add to the body of knowledge for the benefit of the community.

    He wasn’t the only one. Participants poured into the study site in an old school in Brunswick over several days earlier this month, with walk-ins filling out the already packed schedule despite rainy weather.

    Noah Scovronick, assistant professor in the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University and a co-leader of the study. called the response “overwhelming.”

    After about 200 people signed up in advance online and by phone, the study stopped recruiting.

    “We probably would have had 250 or so and that’s good, it’s really impressive,” he said. “Because, a lot of the time we recruit for studies … we’ve really struggled to get the numbers we’re looking for.”

    A diverse group responded.

    Study participant Paul Christian gets his blood drawn.

    “One of the reasons I think this study has been so successful is the range of backgrounds,” Scovronick said. “We’ve had a lot of people with a lot of knowledge of the ins and outs of the environmental issues here and a lot of people (whose knowledge) is more anecdotal.”

    Count Christian among those who knows a lot about pollution in the area’s waterways. While he’s eaten seafood at least once a week for years, he’s avoided the heavily polluted Turtle River area and consumed lots of whiting, also known as Southern kingfish, out of an area known as the whiting hole in front of the King and Prince Hotel on St. Simons.

    “I figured that about 20% of my whole consumption was just that one species,” he said. “We figured well, it’s migratory.”

    Researchers will analyze the blood samples for contaminants including lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and PCBs. They’ll also test pesticides that have been banned but persist in the environment, including toxaphene, which was once produced at the Hercules plant in Glynn County.

    The study’s main question is whether area residents have blood levels of certain contaminants that are higher than what’s found in the general population of the United States. The researchers are not yet looking to discover how people were exposed or whether exposure resulted in any health problems.

    “It’s just too bad we’re even having to do this but that’s the way life is,” Christian said.

    Preliminary results of the study are expected later this year.

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

  • Hydrologists: EPD using wrong data to predict mine’s impact on Okefenokee
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    Editor’s note: This article was updated Feb. 27 to include two additional signatories to the letter.

    A group of 11 academic hydrologists from research universities around the Southeast wrote to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division Monday warning regulators that they’re using the wrong data to predict the effects of mining on the Okefenokee Swamp. The resulting analysis underestimates the risk of drought that mining brings, the hydrologists say.

    After the letter was initially made public, two more hydrologists signed it.

    Alabama-based Twin Pines Minerals is seeking permits from the state to mine for titanium dioxide near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. As part of the permitting process, the EPD issued a draft mining land use plan last month.

    The plan outlines how Twin Pines will continuously remove more than 1 million gallons per day from a shallow aquifer to keep its mining pit dry. The company has also requested a permit to withdraw up to 1.44 million gallons per day from the Floridan Aquifer, which is deeper underground. In modeling the effects on the swamp of these withdrawals, EPD uses data from a river gauge at Mcclenny, Fla.

    The hydrologists say that’s the wrong gauge to use and instead the model should use the Moniac gauge on the St. Marys River, located much closer to the swamp itself.

    The strip mining targets an area called Trail Ridge, ancient sand dunes that form a natural dam along the eastern side of the Okefenokee. The hydrologists say the main question about the mine is the degree to which it will alter the movement of water in and out of the swamp.

    Rhett Jackson outside the Suwanee River Eco-Lodge.

    “(P)revious research has demonstrated very high correlations between flows at this (Moniac) gage and swamp water levels monitored by the USFWS,” they wrote. “The geographic position of this gage is ideal for analyzing potential effects to swamp hydrology of consumptive ground water withdrawals beneath Trail Ridge.

    At 15 miles downstream, the Mcclenny gauge is too far away and much less connected to the swamp.

    “Three-quarters of the area draining to this (Mcclenny) gage is in relative highlands of north central Florida,” they wrote. “The hydrologic inputs to this basin and the hydrologic behavior of this basin are in no way similar to that of the southeastern portion of the Okefenokee Swamp. Furthermore, the sheer size of the basin and its flows at this gage will mask the effects a fixed withdrawal would have where the river exits the swamp.”

    The EPD previously indicated it chose the Mcclenny gauge because its data quality was higher.

    A leading critic of that modeling, UGA hydrology professor C. Rhett Jackson, organized the hydrologists’ letter to EPD. Jackson has previously submitted memos to the EPD outlining his analysis, which indicates an increased risk of drought from the proposed mine.

    “Using the Moniac gage, we see that the mine withdrawals are likely to cause a large and significant increase in the frequency and severity of drought in the swamp,” Jackson wrote in a Jan. 31 memo. “Conversely, using the Macclenny gage, we see nothing.”

    Jackson sent the letter to 14 Southeastern hydrologists. One was traveling and could not meet the deadline of one week to respond. Three did not initially respond. But all those who did respond within the deadline agreed with his assessment, Jackson said.

    Along with Jackson, the hydrologists who initially signed the letter are: Larry Band, University of Virginia; Stephen Schoenholtz, Kevin McGuire, and Daniel L. McLaughlin of Virginia Tech University; Diego Riveros-Iregui, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Ryan Emanuel, Duke University; Matt Cohen, University of Florida; Courtney Siegert, Mississippi State University; Luke Pangle, Georgia State University; and Todd Rasmussen, University of Georgia. Jim Reichard of Georgia Southern University and Chris Anderson of Auburn University signed the letter after it was initially released.

    EPD spokeswoman Sara Lips said Tuesday the division will not be responding to inquiries on technical questions until after staff has had a chance to evaluate all technical comments previously received and that will be received over the comment period.

    “Good comments on the Mining Land Use Plan – additional analysis, data, technical perspectives, mitigation measures, etc. — helps EPD make better decisions and we look forward to the process,” she wrote in an email.  “EPD will prepare a public document responding to the comments made and indicating any changes to the proposal as a response to comments received.  Agency response to comments and finalization of the MLUP can take anywhere from several days to several months to complete, depending on the number and complexity of the comments received.”

    Through a spokesman Twin Pines declined a request for comment.

    EPD is accepting public comments on the plan through March 20, 2023.

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

  • Study recruits Glynn residents to measure their bodies’ chemical levels
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    Home to four Superfund sites, the Brunswick area has a long history of environmental contamination from local industry. The region’s dolphins have been studied and found to carry a heavy load of toxic chemicals, including Aroclor 1268, a mixture of PCBs used only at the Brunswick LCP site. But there has never been a study of Brunswick residents to determine if the environmental contaminants have entered people’s bodies.

    Until now.

    Emory University researchers in partnership with Rebuilding Together Glynn County and other local organizations are recruiting participants to learn if residents have been exposed to potentially harmful chemicals at a level that is higher than in other places.

    “This study is particularly about exposure,” explained Noah Scovronick, assistant professor in the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University and a co-leader of the study. “So “We’re not attempting in this pilot study to discover how people are being exposed, necessarily, or whether the exposure is associated with any health problems. It’s really just to try to identify that people have blood levels of certain contaminants that are higher than what’s found in the general population of the United States.”

    Some of the contaminants researchers will be looking for are known to be associated with some of the sites in and around Brunswick, like mercury, PCBs, and certain pesticides. They’re also screening for some other commonly investigated contaminants like lead and other heavy metals.

    Participants will complete a short questionnaire to collect demographic information, as well as information on possible routes of exposure, such as diet and employment at any of the industrial sites. They’ll also provide a blood sample for analysis. In return they’ll receive a $50 Walmart gift card, their individual test results of pollutants measured in their blood sample, an invitation to meetings that will report the overall findings plus a packet of materials on how to reduce their exposure to chemicals.

    Participants must be at least 18, live in the Brunswick area now and have lived there at least 10 years total.

    “We are pleased that we can respond to community concerns about environmental pollution in Brunswick” said Glynn County Commissioner and The Community First Planning Commission Board Member Allen Booker in a press release announcing the study. “Local organizations designed this study in partnership with Emory scientists, and we are hopeful that the study will provide residents with some of the information they are looking for.”

    The researchers have gotten robust response to their initial efforts to recruit participants, Scovronick said, with many area residents expressing that they knew they grew up in the shadow of industrial facilities, and have long wondered if it’s the reason that they have family members who’ve gotten sick. Many of the neighborhoods closest to the Superfund sites are predominantly Black and the researchers want participation from people who are living or have historically lived there.

    Scovronick and research partner Dana Barr, also of Emory, are aiming for 50-100 participants. The first round of testing is planned for mid-March. If they get enough people, including a good balance of people from different backgrounds, ages and neighborhoods, the first round of testing may be sufficient. If there are no unforeseen delays, results should be available by the end of the summer, Scovronick said.

    This study is funded by the Emory University Exposome Research Center through a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). For more information or to apply visit or email or call 404-727-0250.

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

  • Coastal Georgia Republicans, Democrats struggle for souls of their parties

    Whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, tensions between insurgents and the old guard are roiling the political establishment in Coastal Georgia.

    The ferment is swelling as both political parties gear up for county assemblies next month, during which delegates will be chosen to attend state conventions or state committee meetings this summer.

    In a voice vote at a meeting of the Chatham County GOP in Savannah last week, supporters of Carl Smith, the local GOP’s ad hoc leader, defeated efforts to unseat him as head of the rules committee.

    But that’s unlikely to halt efforts by the party’s self-described “grassroots activists,” for whom Smith has long been a bane.

    These detractors describe Smith as a RINO — Republican in Name Only, an embodiment of the “good old boy” network that has quashed the kind of party reform that they and former President Donald Trump seek.

    He’ll do anything, including manipulating party rules, to preserve the status quo and his role as local kingmaker, said one critic, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the party’s internal workings.

    Formally, Smith serves as vice chairman of the county GOP, while Leonard Massey holds the title of chairman. Massey has played a minimal role in the committee’s activities, however. Neither official attended last week’s meeting. Smith said he was away on business.

    ‘Never satisfied with anything’

    How representative the insurgents’ views are is difficult to gauge — Coastal Georgia, unlike the densely populated Atlanta area, is notoriously lacking in opinion surveys and political polling. But in an interview yesterday with The Current, Smith played down the degree of dissent in local Republican ranks.

    “There are just different groups of people that that are never satisfied with anything,” he said. “They attack [U.S. Rep.] Buddy Carter. They complain about Gov. [Brian] Kemp. They’re just a small percentage of the people that we have in the party that are extremely radical—I’m not even sure if they’re Republican.”

    At stake in the fight for control of the party, Smith said, is its growth.

    “We’re trying to work with everybody and bring people to join our party, which makes it harder when you have those kinds of radicals and people who are just trying to have a litmus test and virtue-signaling about how they’re supposedly a better Republican than myself or a Congressman Carter, or (state) Rep. (Jesse) Petrea, or the governor.”

    Despite the feeling of upheaval, Chatham County Republicans managed to see eye-to-eye on one thing, though. In a voice vote, they endorsed Harmeet Dhillon over the incumbent, Ronna McDaniel, for chair of the Republican National Committee. The vote is Thursday.

    Dhillon, who backed Donald Trump’s attempt to throw out the 2020 election results and represented him before the House’s Jan. 6 panel, is challenging McDaniel, blaming her for the GOP’s disappointing midterm performance.

    The committee’s recommendation will be passed on to state GOP officials David Shafer, Jason Thompson, and Ginger Howard.

    ‘Getting county committees up and running’

    On the Democratic side, there’s similar anti-establishment fervor.

    James “Jay” Jones

    At a meeting of the Georgia Democratic Party in Atlanta earlier this month, Savannah’s James “Jay” Jones won a full, four-year term as head of the 1st District’s 18-member delegation to the state party, narrowly defeating Hinesville’s Sabrina Newby.

    Jones, former chair of the Chatham County Democratic Party, had already held the post for 18 months, serving out the term of his predecessor, who quit. He ran unsuccessfully in the November elections against Republican state Sen. Ben Watson (District 1).

    But discord remains.

    In the battle between the old and the new, “Jay Jones needs to move on,” one member of the delegation, Debby Griggs, a nursing instructor at Georgia Southern University, wrote on Facebook after the vote.

    One of Jones’s responsibilities is to field Democrats to run for political office and to build Democratic committees in the 15 coastal counties that comprise the 1st District, the foundation for any improvement of the party’s political fortunes in the region. The insurgents claim he has failed in that task.

    In response, Jones says that for all of the party’s successes in some urban areas of Coastal Georgia, few people fathom the enormity of the task that faces Democrats region-wide.

    The Coastal Georgia counties where the Democratic Party wants to “get up and running” have been dominated by Republicans for decades, from the mayor’s office to the election board, he explained in an interview.

    The daunting process has been slowed by inertia, local powerbrokers, and fears of political retaliation, not to mention the difficulty of juggling a day job with a voluntary one, he said.

    “I don’t get paid for this,” he said.

  • Voting system, gambling loom over Georgia lawmakers’ agenda
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    Lowering taxes? Of course. Improving education? Absolutely. Reducing crime? For sure.

    But missing from the lists of legislative priorities of Coastal Georgia lawmakers in the upcoming session of the Georgia General Assembly has been any mention of two hot-button issues that could drop on their desks: election reform and legalizing sports betting and casino gambling

    At a recent legislative preview on Skidaway Island, Sen. Ben Watson (District 1) and Rep. Jesse Petrea (District 166) indicated they had no stomach for another legislative brawl over voting and the election system.

    When two members of the audience criticized what they said were the failures and weaknesses of the voting system, the two lawmakers, both Republicans, didn’t respond with pledges to return to the legislative trenches for another fight about voting. 

    Legalizing gambling? The issue didn’t even come up.

    But Georgia’s legislature is still likely to take up this pair of highly controversial issues when it convenes Jan. 9 for 40 days of debate and horse trading. 

    Both Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and grassroots Republicans want changes in Georgia’s voting laws. And Rep. Ron Stephens (District 164), who introduced legislation legalizing gambling in the last session, said yesterday he’s set to do it again.  

    Continued skepticism about voting system

    On Georgia’s electoral system, vocal factions in Republican circles up and down the coast are still demanding the scrapping of Georgia’s Dominion voting system and a return to paper ballots.

    Even though there were no reports of widespread irregularities or fraud in the process that culminated in the victories of the GOP in nearly all statewide races, among these Republicans, the conviction endures that the 2020 election was stolen from the GOP and Donald Trump. There’s also the widely held belief that the state’s voting system is rigged against Republicans and especially, conservative ones.

    That continued skepticism about the state’s voting system is evidenced by continued challenges to the 2020 vote, one of which was brought by lieutenant governor candidate Jeanne Seaver and four Chatham County residents.

    The secretary of state’s office recently advised Seaver that eight instances of alleged election violations in Chatham were being referred to the state attorney general for further investigation and possible prosecution.

    ‘False claims about our elections’

    Meanwhile, prominent members of both of the state’s main political parties aren’t happy with the electoral system, either.

    On the GOP side of the aisle, Raffensperger continues to be mistrusted by many of Coastal Georgia Republicans for his refusal to go along with Trump’s claims of election fraud in 2020.

    But he cracked open the door to a renewed legislative fight about the electoral system during the U.S. Senate runoff between Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker when he barred Georgia counties from allowing voting on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

    The Georgia Supreme Court unanimously disagreed with him, and the voting went ahead, providing Warnock with a meaty talking point about voter suppression that he used in the waning days of the runoff campaign to urge voters to go to the polls.

    The secretary of state then crashed through the door last week when he urged lawmakers to eliminate its general election runoff after previously defending the practice in 2020 and again earlier this year.

    In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend entitled, “Raphael Warnock, Election Denier,” Raffensperger then took aim at the newly reelected senator.

    “I have to spend a lot of time shooting down false claims about our elections in Georgia,” he wrote. “Usually they come from losers. But sometimes even victorious candidates make false claims about our elections.”

    Warnock fired back at the state’s top election official yesterday, saying that voter suppression is still an issue in Georgia, despite record voter turnout.

    “The fact that people have had to overcome barriers doesn’t mean those barriers don’t exist,” he said on “CBS Mornings.”

    To top off what’s likely to be yet another clash over the state’s voting system, the State Election Board voted unanimously last week to ask legislators to create a program to distribute outside election money donated by nonprofit groups to improve voting processes.

    Gambling in Georgia: Has its time come?

    Efforts to legalize sports betting and casino gambling have failed in the past two legislative sessions, despite strong support from the Atlanta Falcons of the National Football League and the National Basketball Association’s Atlanta Hawks.

    But their time may now have come, after years of efforts by some members of the assembly, led by Stephens, to get them legalized. 

    It was Stephens who, in the last legislative session, introduced legislation to amend the state’s constitution to make both activities legal and to create the Georgia Sports Betting Commission, which would be in charge of managing an online sports wagering system.

    For the amendment to pass, it first must be approved by two-thirds of the membership of the Georgia House and Senate, respectively, before going to the state’s voters.

    Gov. Brian Kemp has opposed gaming in Georgia, but his Democratic opponent in last month’s election, Stacey Abrams, supported it as part of her economic vision for the state, viewing it as a source of funds to finance education initiatives.

    That support may give the Republican governor the political cover he needs — and the political cover Stephens wants — to change the state’s constitution and usher in gaming.

    Stephens said that the new legislative session is ushering in some significant changes that may affect the fate of gambling legislation. House Speaker David Ralston was “all in” on the legislation during the last session, but he died last month. Where his successor, Effingham County’s Jon Burns, stands on the issue isn’t clear, Stephens said. 

    Poised to fight the legalization of gambling is a broad coalition of groups, including the Georgia Baptist Mission Board and arts and culture organizations. But they face a formidable foe in the gambling industry, whose efforts to sway state legislatures and institute gaming across the U.S. are well-funded and savvy.

    In a webinar last week sponsored by Georgians for the Arts to discuss the legislature’s upcoming session, the president and CEO of Atlanta’s Fox Theatre, Allan Vella, said past gaming legislation proposed in the Georgia legislature poses a threat to entertainment venues like his.

    The legislation insisted that the gaming organizations build entertainment venues, he said. But casinos use entertainment and the arts as a loss leader to drive traffic to their casino floor, imperiling the survival of arts and culture organizations statewide.

    Vella said he anticipated gambling legislation to be introduced in the legislature next year. When it does, he said, it will be a challenge for the Georgia Arts & Venue Coalition, a group that Vella and other arts and culture officials established to educate legislators about the effects of the gaming industry on the arts and music.

    “At one time the casinos had approximately 50 lobbyists employed, and we had our whopping two. It was very much a David-and-Goliath situation.”

    The Tide brings observations and notes from The Current staff.

  • First two right whale calves of the season spotted off Georgia coast
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    Editor’s note: This article was updated Dec. 9 to include the sighting of a second mother/calf pair.

    It’s been a good week for right whales. Researchers spotted the second right whale calf of the 2022-23 season just a day after sighting the first one.

    The second mother/calf pair featured a right whale nicknamed Archipeligo and her baby, who were photographed by scientists with the Florida Fish and Game Commission about 5 miles off Little St. Simons on Thursday. Archipeligo last gave birth four years ago. This is her third calf. On Wednesday researchers spotted the first North Atlantic right whale mom and calf pair of the 2022-2023 season off the coast of St. Catherines Sound.

    That mom, Catalog #1208 “Medusa” is estimated to be 42 years old, and this is her seventh documented calf, according to the researchers from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute who spotted her. Both mother/calf pairs were spotted as part of scheduled aerial surveys that help learn about and protect the highly endangered whales.

    right whale calf
    Medusa and her calf were sighted Dec. 7, 2022 about 13 miles off St. Catherines Sound.

    Medusa and Archipeligo are two of an estimated 70 breeding females remaining in a total population of about 340 North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis). Their only known calving grounds off the coasts of northeast Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina have been designated Critical Habitat Areas to help protect the species.

    Recent years have brought an 20 deaths to these bus-sized animals from entanglement in fishing gear and from being hit by ships and boats. Another 14 right whales died from unknown causes since 2017, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports.

    The Georgia Department of Natural Resources reports it’s renewing efforts to inform recreational boaters about the risk that hitting a right whale poses to whales and boats. Three calves have died from collisions with boats less than 65 feet long since 2020. The north Atlantic right whale is Georgia’s state marine mammal.

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

  • Gray’s Reef comes ashore
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    Located 19 miles off the Georgia Coast in about 65 feet of water, Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary is a local attraction few ever get to see. Even the sanctuary’s offices are tucked out of the way on Skidaway Island, convenient for launching research vessels but not for raising the profile of the live bottom reef.

    “It’s an underwater National Park,” said Gray’s Reef superintendent Stan Rogers. “And only a few people get to see that firsthand whether you’re a scuba diver or a fisherman.”

    The sanctuary is remedying the situation by bringing the reef to visitors with a Gray’s Reef Ocean Discovery Center in Savannah. Located at 340 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, along what was once the city’s hub for Black business, the Discovery Center is housed in the former Thrifty Supply Center.

    Opened for a preview for about a week ending October 22, the staff is still building out exhibits. It’s expected to open four or five days a week beginning in February. Admission will be free.

    The center has already gotten Lee Martinez better acquainted with the sanctuary. Martinez works at a local equestrian center but was looking for volunteer work when she happened upon Rogers opening up the Discovery Center. It immediately appealed. “I wanted to be a marine biologist as a kid,” she said.

    Volunteer Lee Martinez shows off the VR goggles at the Gray’s Reef Ocean Discovery Center

    During the preview week, Martinez demonstrated the use of virtual reality goggles, strapping them on to get a 360-degree view of the reef, as videoed by a research diver. With the goggles on, Martinez could see a loggerhead sea turtle glide toward her, a nurse shark snuggling into the sand and a school of black sea bass swimming by as if their movements were choreographed.

    The goggles are a huge hit, said Outreach & Social Media Coordinator Ben Prueitt. “It’s the most immersive way to get to the sanctuary without getting your feet wet.”

    The exhibits will also include videos, auditory exhibits (shrimp make noise!), photos and interactive games. An area in the back serves as a small lecture/movie viewing spot.

    Gray’s Reef was designated sanctuary in January 1981, one of the last acts of outgoing President Jimmy Carter.

    “And most people in this area just don’t know that that exists, honestly,” Rogers said. “That even after 40 years of designation, we have a long ways to go of educating the public about the existence of these places off the coast, the value of them and then how they are connected to these resources.”

    At about 22 square miles, Gray’s Reef is a little bigger than St. Simons Island. It’s a “live bottom” reef, meaning its hard or rocky seafloor supports high numbers of large invertebrates such as sponges, corals and sea squirts. It attracts more than 200 species of fish including sea bass, snapper, grouper and mackerel, as well as their prey. Loggerhead sea turtles rest and forage there and right whales visit. It’s full of color and texture and movement. As a living laboratory, Gray’s Reef attracts experts from all over the world to conduct research.

    Rogers grew up nearby in Hampton County, S.C. Savannah was the “big city,” he said. A fish and wildlife biologist, he’s spent half his career working with marine species. He’s been at Gray’s Reef since 2019.

    Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Superintendent Stan Rogers

    “One of the first things that I noticed was, we were just too much out of the public eye out at Skidaway; it’s a great place for research, great place for our research vessels to operate from, but a little hard to get to for public access. So this is all about access and equitable access to the community.”

    With no live animals and space for about 40-50 visitors at a time, Rogers calls the MLK venue “Visitor Center Light,” and hopes it will attract community members and tourists alike.

    “So you really just kind of pop in, check it out, and learn,” he said. “In half an hour, you can really pick up a lot of information. And then and then do some shopping while you’re at it, too.”

    “Shopping” refers to a planned gift shop. For now, the center is 100% federally funded, but Rogers hopes that with volunteer help and proceeds from its gift shop it can become self-sustaining.

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

  • River Guide app makes it easier to explore Georgia by water
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    As a co-owner of Southeast Adventure Outfitters on St. Simons and Brunswick, Michael Gowen has been organizing kayak trips in Coastal Georgia since 1994. It hasn’t always been easy.

    “In the past, it’s always been trying to find information about river put ins and trips and distances in Georgia, based on the very few books that were there,” he said. “And then it became trying to find information on the internet, where you could find it.”

    He and other kayakers and canoeists are welcoming the Georgia River Guide app from Georgia River Network. Released in March, it’s been downloaded more than 6,000 times.

    “Now, with an app, it is all consolidated into one place,” Gowen said. “And that’s probably the greatest benefit of having kind of a one-stop shop for river information.”

    The app is for anyone who wants to paddle, swim, fish, boat or otherwise explore Georgia’s waterways, said Georgia River Network spokeswoman Sarah Taylor.

    “We definitely were trying to cater it towards really, anyone, novice or experienced and to just have all the information you’d need in one place,” she said. “But we were certainly mindful of folks dabbling with (paddling), people who occasionally want to get out of the house, and do it. We wanted to make sure the safety information was accurate for them.”

    Eight years in the making, the app draws information from Joe Cook’s river guide books and Suzanne Welander’s river guide books as well as from the state’s riverkeepers, water trail groups and commercial outfitters.

    “So we really try to curate information from the folks who know their river best,” said Andrea White, community programs coordinator at Georgia River Network.

    Dale Williams is expert at kayaking, but he’s just getting into canoeing. He used to think of the canoe as an “antiquated craft,” he said.

    “Now I’m finding it to be very graceful and just a beautiful thing to watch somebody who’s good at how and and so I’m trying to improve my canoeing skills,” said Williams, who owns and operates Sea Kayaking USA, and lives on Tybee Island. Williams is looking forward to using the app to tell him water levels, current flow, and where the put ins and take outs are.

    As far as Coastal Georgia river paddling goes, Gowen likes the Altamaha, called Georgia’s Amazon because it’s “very big and wild.” And there’s also the Satilla with its beautiful white sandbars.

    Paddlers who don’t find their favorite spot on the app can suggest it by sending an email to, White said.

    “Since we launched the app March 1, we’ve already added three new rivers,” she said.

    Rena Peck of the Georgia River Network paddles a canoe in the Okefenokee Swamp.

    About the Georgia River Guide app

    From the iconic wetlands of the Okefenokee Wilderness Area Canoe Water Trail in the southeast, to the limestone-lined banks of the Flint River in the southwest, and the historic waters of the Etowah River in the northwest, the Georgia River Guide maps out the perfect section of river for your next adventure. Download the Georgia River Guide from the App Store or the Android app from Google Play.


    • Public access points & river mileage
    • River conditions & recommended runnable levels
    • Level of difficulty
    • Specific river rapids or hazards
    • GPS location when in-service and access to all data when out of cellular service
    • Outfitters and shuttle services
    • Cultural and historic points of interest
    • Available amenities
    • Tips on how to plan your trip & stay safe on the water

  • Carter-Herring debate nights arrive
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    Move over, Herschel and Raphael. Move over Brian and Stacey.

    Coastal Georgia takes center stage today, as the candidates for the region’s seat in U.S. Congress — Republican incumbent Buddy Carter and Democratic challenger Wade Herring — square off for the first of two, one-hour debates starting Tuesday at 4:15 p.m. at the Atlanta Press Club. It will be live-streamed only.

    Tuesday’s debate on Georgia Public Broadcasting will feature questions posed by Margaret Coker, The Current’s editor in chief, and Will Peebles, government reporter for the Savannah Morning News. The candidates will face off again on Wednesday in a live studio debate at 7 p.m. hosted by Savannah’s WTOC-TV.

    Carter, the four-term congressman and former Pooler mayor, is endorsed by former President Donald Trump and benefits from a strongly Republican-leaning district.

    In the current campaign, the confident Carter has seldom, if ever, referred to Herring by name. Herring, however, has put on his boxing gloves.

    In a new 30-second television ad released last week, he dubs Carter, a licensed pharmacist, “Big Pharma’s Favorite Son.” The ad says Carter “made a fortune as pharmacy owner” then received campaign donations from pharmaceutical interests to help protect the industry’s profits.

    The allegations aren’t new: Accusations of doing the pharmaceutical industry’s bidding at the expense of consumers have trailed Carter since he was elected to Congress in 2015. But fresh or not, the allegations may not be easy for him to ignore on the stage with Herring.

    Herring, on the other hand, will have to explain how he — someone who has spent a career as a corporate lawyer and never held public office — could do better representing Coastal Georgia voters than the experienced Carter.

    The debates also could prove illuminating if the candidates are forced to answer uncomfortable questions — a contrast to the customary stump appearances, campaign jingles, and questions from friendly news outlets.

    On the campaign trail, Carter has lambasted the Biden administration, promoted the GOP’s “Commitment to America,” and touted his ambition to become the chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee if, as he predicts, Republicans flip the chamber in next month’s midterm elections.

    Yet Carter, like House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, has not explained how a Republican-led House would implement the “Commitment to America” and its goal of security and a strong economy.

    And in plugging his zeal to cut federal spending and win over fellow Republicans to his candidacy for the chairmanship, Carter hasn’t indicated whether other large government expenditures, including the FY2022 Defense Department budget of $1.94 trillion or the omnibus farm bill of $428 billion over five years, would face scrutiny as Social Security and Medicare.

    Carter has joined calls to reduce spending on Social Security and Medicare. The Republicans’ “main focus has got to be on nondiscretionary — it’s got to be on entitlements,” he told Bloomberg News last week.

    Finally, we’ll see in the debates how each candidate seeks to portray the other as “extremist” and out of touch with Coastal Georgia. Who succeeds?

    Stay tuned.

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

  • New partnership opens Chatham County DA case files to data analysis

    Chatham County’s prosecutor’s office is opening up its case files for an intense examination of its case files with the aim of increasing public safety and fairness in the criminal justice system.

    The district attorney has partnered with a nonprofit called Justice Innovation Lab for the data analysis. The group recently worked with Charleston, S.C., where the organization recommended that prosecutors implement a “screening” practice to ensure that only criminal cases with solid evidence make it into the funnel of cases.

    The goal of the Charleston recommendation was to reduce the backlog of cases made worse by COVID-19 shutdown of the courts and ensure prosecutors prioritize worthwhile cases, according to Jared Fishman, executive director and founder of the Washington D.C.-based non-profit.

    Fishman, a former federal prosecutor who prosecuted the 2015 police killing of Walter Scott in North Charleston, said the group is processing a first tranche of data from DA Shalena Cook Jones’ office in Savannah.

    “We will likely do similar interventions like we did in Charleston in terms of being able to screen bad cases out of the system earlier, and to create a better relationship with the police to keep those cases from entering,”  Fishman said.

    In Chatham County, the organization will look at several factors, Fishman said, including:

    • What crimes prosecutors are spending their most time on
    • Potentially burdensome fines and fees
    • The types of sentences defendants are receiving
    • How long people are being held in jail before trial
    • The average time for the DA’s office to get through cases
    • Any disparities in race or gender or other factors

    At a recent speech defending her record, Jones, a Democrat, said her new approach to criminal justice is underpinned by better data collection and reallocation of resources to get at root problems of crime.

    Chatham County District Attorney
    Chatham County District Attorney Shalena Cook-Jones speaking at a NAACP meeting.

    Local Republicans politicians have linked a minor rise in violent crimes in Savannah — which is mirrored across many U.S. cities — to the DA’s policies.

    “Contrary to what the current DA believes, not every criminal can be hugged into becoming a good citizen,” Anthony Burton, a former assistant district attorney and former candidate for local judge, wrote on Facebook in a recent commentary against Jones.

    Crime feels worse now for citizens, Jones said in her speech, because Covid exposed the underbelly of an overburdened system.

    “People want to talk about this increase in violent crime that has happened post-Covid. But that part of the equation actually hasn’t changed,” the she said in her talk in downtown Savannah. “I’m here to tell you that Covid is the proverbial match that lit the powder keg of all of society’s ills.”

    Fishman said it is too early to tell what exactly is causing the rise in violent crime across the U.S. — more data analysis is needed.

    Fishman said there is a growing consensus among many criminal justice experts that America’s system of criminal accountability is not working. He said that holds among several different metrics: recidivism, victim satisfaction and money spent.

    “We spend hundreds of billions of dollars incarcerating people, policing people. And if that increased our public safety, then maybe that would all be worth it,” he said. “But we don’t see that.”

    He hopes that the 18-month project examining Chatham County’s data will  identify problems and help prompt solutions to make residents feel safer. 

  • Hurricane Ian spins a cautionary tale for coastal politicians
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    As Hurricane Ian swept north through Florida, heading towards Coastal Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp flew into Savannah to brief residents on preparations for the gale. Sen. Jon Ossoff urged residents to “take the storm seriously,” while Sen. Raphael Warnock urged calm and readiness.

    Rep. Buddy Carter’s office provided a list of resources for those residents affected by the storm. Savannah Mayor Van Johnson and other municipal officials up and down the coast put emergency management plans on the ready.

    Together, Georgia’s officials — especially those on the ballot next month — took pains to be seen and heard as Ian neared. After it was over, no one appeared to have dropped the ball.

    This is due mainly to the fact that at least for Coastal Georgia, the hurricane was a “nothing-burger,” as one disappointed surfer on Tybee Island put it.

    Yet with a slight shift in the storm’s path, it easily could have been different, St. Marys City Council member Jim Goodman told The Brunswick News.

    “Had the storm run up the east coast of Florida as a Category 4, I’d be out of here,” said Goodman, the sole candidate for the Camden County Commission’s seat four in the midterm elections. “It would have been really bad.”

    Going forward, the crucial question for state and local officials is what lessons can be learned from Hurricane Ian after the television cameras turn elsewhere and before a storm of similar scale occurs again, as it no doubt will — with possibly far more dire consequences for Coastal Georgia.

    Certainly, the storm served as yet another reminder of the big picture: Growth in the region and elsewhere in the southeastern U.S. is putting more people in harm’s way.

    From 2010 to 2020, the rate of population growth in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Tennessee surpassed the national average — Florida alone added a staggering 2.7 million people. Census projections suggest the Southeast will see the nation’s largest population gains over the next two decades, through 2040.

    Hurricane Ian is also a reminder of the quandaries facing those government officials trying to address the costs of extreme weather while encouraging growth.

    To our north, in Charleston, where the population grew 25% between 2010 and 2020, officials believe that climate change is an existential threat. Last year, the mayor said Charleston must “rezone every inch of our city” to put an end to development in flood-prone areas.

    At the same time, plans are moving ahead for a massive residential and commercial development that environmentalists say is located partly in a flood plain.

    More narrowly, Hurricane Ian renewed questions about the use of building codes, evacuations, and insurance for residents in vulnerable areas seeking to protect themselves and their property.

    FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell told CNN on Sunday that anyone living near water should buy flood insurance.

    “Just because you’re not required to buy flood insurance doesn’t mean you don’t have the option to buy it.” Fewer than five million policies are in force nationwide, FEMA reports.

    Politically speaking, Kemp and other Georgia officials know that major storms provide a national spotlight and lots of media attention. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis knows that, too.

    As the hurricane hurtled towards Florida from the Caribbean, he toned down his provocative political style to appear more collegial, especially to the federal government, on which his state depends for emergency assistance.

    Politicians are also keenly aware that natural disasters can break, as well as make, a political career. The perils of ignoring such disasters — or appearing to ignore them — are woven into American political lore.

    President George W. Bush never recovered politically from the perception that the federal government failed to respond adequately to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

    When a sudden storm quickly dumped 14 inches of snow on Washington in 1987, forcing the federal government, the local government, and businesses to shut down, then-Mayor Marion Barry was 3,000 miles away in California, playing tennis at the Beverly Hills Hilton and watching the Super Bowl, in which his hometown team wasn’t even participating.

    Most politicians would have returned home. Barry did not, beginning his long slide from power.

    Then there is that headline.

    When city plows failed to clear streets in the borough of Queens for days following a blizzard in 1969, favoring Manhattan instead, the New York Daily News blared, “QUEENS CALLS MAYOR SCHMOBALL.”

    The outcry forced Hizzoner, Republican John Lindsay, to change political parties. Lindsay managed to eke out reelection. But the “Lindsay Blizzard” and the mayor’s perceived neglect introduced the phrase “limousine liberal” into the American political lexicon.

    Lindsay later retired to Hilton Head, where he died in 2000.

    Whether DeSantis suffers anything close to that ignominy remains to be seen. But there are signs of a developing political storm.

    The number of people in Florida killed by Ian increased to at least 100 yesterday afternoon. That toll is expected to increase. Questions also are starting to be asked over whether hard-hit areas received enough advance warning to evacuate. And then there are concerns over how the storm will affect Florida’s already floundering property insurance market.

    Georgia officials are watching closely. Hurricane season continues through November.

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

  • Hurricane Ian prep: Need to know

    Scroll down for specific county, state resources and alerts signups

    Shelter, transportation

    Chatham Area Transit is working with the Chatham Emergency Management Agency to transport Savannah-area residents to an emergency shelter.

    The emergency shelter will be located at Compassion Christian Church, located at 55 Al Henderson Blvd., in Savannah and will open at 5 p.m. Thursday.

    • Passengers who need assistance can take any bus to get to the downtown transit center, then line up at the “H-Spot” to head to the emergency shelter free of charge.
    • CAT will have a special route that will only service the ITC and the emergency shelter.
    • The last trip to leave the ITC will be at 9:30 pm.
    • Passengers will have to indicate that they are going to the shelter to ride for free.
    • Riders are only allowed to bring 2 bags on the trip to the emergency shelter.
    • Pets are not allowed at the emergency shelter.
    • Passengers can download the “CATTracker” for free to track their bus in real time.
    • They can also sign up for service alerts through text by texting “RIDECAT” to 41411.

    Notable closings

    • Sidney Lanier Bridge in Glynn County is closed until storm has passed and has passed an inspection. Earlier, GDOT had announced the closure of the Savannah River Bridge, but changed it just before 9 a.m. In the event that wind speeds force that to happen, Savannah traffic may use the Houlihan Bridge in Port Wentworth or I-95 to cross the Savannah River.
    • Savannah city road closures: updates will be posted at
    • Brunswick road closures: closures will be listed in the Glynn EMA dashboard and this FAQs document.
    • Schools: Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools will have virtual learning days Thursday and Friday. All Coastal Georgia county public schools and most private schools will not meet in person on Thursday or Friday.
    • College of Coastal Georgia will move classes online through Friday.
    • SCAD announced Tuesday evening that it would close academic and administrative buildings in Savannah Thursday and Friday.
    • Savannah State University will have asynchronous online classes Thursday and Friday.
    • Georgia Southern University will move all classes online at 1 p.m. Thursday. Campuses will be closed. Only essential personnel should be on campuses and students living on campus may shelter in place in residence halls. Dining halls will have limited hours. People may return and classes will start only after campuses have been cleared and an “all-clear” Eagle Alert has been issued.
    • Savannah Technical College will close at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, and will reopen on Monday.
    • City of Savannah: Beginning Thursday, all non-emergency offices will be closed through the weekend. Landfill and Bacon Park convenience center will be closed. Recorders Court will close at 1 p.m. Thursday.
    • Glynn County government offices will be closed to the public on Thursday and Friday.
    • Live Oak Public Libraries: All branches will be closed Thursday through the weekend. They will reopen on Monday.
    • Marshes of Glynn Public Libraries: All branches will be closed Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Due dates on materials will be extended until Monday, when the branches reopen.

    Monitor tides, storm surges

    Check points along the way through sensors set up by NOAA on its Coastal Inundation Dashboard.

    Link to check smart sea-level sensors in Chatham and Bryan counties, St. Mary’s and Sapelo Island.

    Learn more

    County, other sources for info

    Here are sources of information from Coastal Georgia to help plan for a hurricane or flooding event. Sign up for alerts and social media in your county, know your evacuation routes and zones when designated and be ready to leave for your own safety.

    Georgia Power’s outage map shows outage sizes and expected restoration time.

    Coastal Electric Cooperative’s outage map shows outage sizes and expected restoration time.

    Georgia Emergency Management – ReadyGeorgia tips, evacuation routes

    Make your home “ready kit”: Here’s a list of things you’ll need.

    Evacuation planning guide, Georgia routes, Ga DOT social media for updates

    Family communications planning

    Planning for your pet.

    Know your alerts, warnings.

    Key messaging, forecasts from the National Hurricane Center

    Chatham County

    Chatham Emergency Management – download the app, register for alerts

    Will you need assistance in case of evacuation? Registry information and forms required. Apply NOW for the hurricane registry: 1-833-243-7344

    Glynn County

    Glynn County Emergency Management 912-554-7111

    Register for notifications.

    For radio advisories: FM104.9

    Evacuation map, evacuation districts

    Glynn County GIS Surge Map

    Liberty County

    Liberty County Emergency Management

    Sign up for Liberty County alerts.

    Follow LibertycountyEMA on Facebook for updates.

    Camden County

    Camden County Hurricane Guide

    Camden County Emergency Management

    Camden County evacuation routes, maps, zones

    Bryan County

    Bryan County Emergency Management

    Hurricane planning

    Flood preparation

    McIntosh County

    McIntosh County Emergency Management

    Sign up for McIntosh County alert system

  • It’s a good year for saw palmetto berries
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    There’s a bumper crop of saw palmetto berries this year in southeastern Georgia. And that’s led to a bumper crop of berry poachers.

    The berries, which look like olives, are used in supplements purported to treat hair loss and prostate problems, among other maladies. Globally, saw palmetto berries are a $150 million business. They grow naturally in 14 counties of southeast Georgia and are picked by hand off the low growing bushes. As of late August, the Georgia Forestry Commission has received 50 complaints about berry poachers.

    In response, the commission and local law enforcement agencies have issued 17 warrants, said commission spokeswoman Wendy Burnett, who also wrote about the issue in a recent blog.

    During a high yield crop season like this one, illegally harvested berries have been estimated for a loss of $500,000 to landowners. A Georgia law passed in 2020 requires proper documentation, including written permission from the landowner, for the berries to be sold.

    According to a commission investigator, landowners often do not notice the thefts until their property has been picked clean. Illegal harvesters operate day and night and may be dangerous if confronted. The commission urges landowners to report unauthorized activity to local law enforcement or the GFC.

    “Theft by taking” of illegally harvested palmetto berries valued under $1,500 is a misdemeanor and is a felony if over $1,500.

    Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) is salt resistant and grows in all the coastal counties. Native Americans used the plant for food, medicine and basket making, the US Department of Agriculture reports, indicating “the Tequesta, Creek, Miccosukee, and Seminole gathered and ate the berries in late summer or fall.”

    Plenty of animals also depend on saw palmettos for food, shelter or both. A 1996 study indicated saw palmetto is a keystone species in Florida where researchers found 100 bird species, 27 mammals, 25 amphibians, 61 reptiles and a host of insects rely on it.

    Public lands including Dixon Memorial State Forest in Ware County, the site of research on palmetto berry production, and the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge have had problems with illegal harvests in past years.

    “Certainly that’s a problem that people have,” Burnett said. “Some of that maybe is a misconception that if it’s a public forest, you can go on and you can take things out.”

    Harvest is generally prohibited on public land and only legal with the landowner’s written permission on private land.

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

  • Savannah-area officials plan to use climate incentives in Inflation Reduction Act
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act doesn’t have “climate” in its name but it’s described as the “most significant climate legislation ever enacted by Congress.”

    It’s expected to bring an estimated $180 million of investment in large-scale clean power generation and storage to Georgia by 2030, add almost 110,000 clean energy jobs in the state over five years and provide rebates and tax credits for individuals buying electric vehicles or retrofitting their homes with solar panels or energy efficiency measures.

    Savannah-area officials outlined recently how the act will cut costs for families, create jobs, boost local clean energy goals, and help protect the county from coastal flooding. 

    For Savannah, it offers opportunities to accelerate its “100% Savannah” program, initiated in March 2020, which aims to have all electricity consumed in the city provided by clean, safe and renewable sources by 2035. Its 2050 goal is to have all energy consumed in the city meet the same standard.

    The city has already committed to $9 million in solar energy, with plans to cover the roofs of 20 municipal buildings in solar panels.

    “This (federal legislation) gives us the ability through grant money to be even more ambitious to be able to rely on solar for more facilities throughout the city so that we can achieve 100% clean energy,” said Alderman Nick Palumbo at a press conference Wednesday co-hosted by Climate Action Campaign and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.  “And if it can work here in Savannah, it can work everywhere. …This unlocks the possibility not just for cities like Savannah but all over Georgia’s coast and in all of our country to be able to utilize the same programs we’re utilizing today and make it cost effective for them to get implemented well into the future.”

    Savannah’s new solar is expected to provide workforce training as well as energy savings, Palumbo said. With a boost from the Inflation Reduction Act, he is eyeing plans to add solar to the city’s water treatment plan, which he calls an “energy hog” that costs about $8 million a year in electricity costs.

    Mayor Van Johnson sees the funding available in the act as a way to “supercharge” the city’s installation of electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

    Chris Carnevale of SACE; Chatham County Commissioner Aaron “Adot Whitely; AJ Jeanty of Creative Solar; and Savannah Alderman Nick Palumbo

    “We recognize more people are coming here with electric vehicles,” he said. “Right now, we don’t have enough infrastructure. As we move forwards, from hybrid to electric vehicles, we need to have more ability to charge them.”

    Savannah lists five city-sponsored public charging stations on its web site. It also has begun deploying electric vehicles as part of the city’s own fleet, beginning in 2018 with a successful pilot program for employees who enforce parking regulations. The city is now leasing electric vehicles and previously announced plans to make 20% of its 2,500 or so vehicles electric by the end of the year.

    For the county, the tangible benefit is likely to be reduced flooding. Commissioner Aaron “Adot” Whitely recounted how his mother’s house in Carver Village flooded in 2016’s Hurricane Matthew, resulting in thousands of dollars in damages as well as lost sentimental items including photographs and high school yearbooks. Some Chatham County streets flood regularly, even with no hurricane in sight.

    “I think the biggest takeaway is going to be the investment in our infrastructure for stormwater drainage,” Whitely said. “In just roadway and stormwater drainage, at this point, we have a lot of work to do to our drainage canals throughout the county.”

    The Inflation Reduction Act’s 730 pages include an estimated 56 climate-related incentives and programs. 

    People are more aware of the Inflation Reduction Act’s consumer-facing incentives, like tax credits for going solar, and EVs, said Chris Carnevale, of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. The legislation also provides grants and incentives for clean energy to local governments and nonprofits, which haven’t been able to take advantage of previous programs that offered only tax credits.

    “There are also major programs investing in workforce development and growing domestic manufacturing,” Carnevale said. “One program in particular, that is of note, especially in Georgia is a production tax credit for businesses (available) for each component of a clean energy or clean transportation item that is produced and sold in the United States.”

    The bill emphasizes clean energy jobs with a credit for manufacturers and installers that multiplies up to fivefold if the employer meets prevailing wage requirements and apprenticeship requirements.

    “There’s a major incentive to provide jobs, inroads into the industry, and reward companies that invest in the workforce,” he said.

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

  • More electric buses coming to Chatham County
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    Chatham Area Transit plans to add four new electric buses to it fleet, bringing its total to 10 fully electric buses or 15% of its public transportation fleet.

    A $6.8 million award, including a $5.4 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration, will pay for the new buses plus additional charging infrastructure and workforce development.

    Local officials celebrated the grant in front of an electric bus at CAT headquarters last week.

    “This project will help CAT reduce maintenance costs, provide better service to our customers, reduce our carbon footprint and further support workforce development,” said CAT Board Chairman Deidrick Cody.

    CAT put its first six electric buses in service in April after beginning the process of evaluating them in 2017. This process is already a lot quicker.

    “Little do we know this would turn around so fast. It’s just this past May we applied for this grant. And lo and behold, here it is.” said Chatham County Commission Chairman Chester Ellis. “And this is going to help us to improve our carbon footprint, it’s is going to help us with our fight against climate change, and ocean rise.”

    Riders like the buses, CAT Executive Director Faye DiMassimo said. It helps that the vehicles are new, of course. They are also fully equipped with charging ports for cell phones. Some riders, though, have made it a point to compliment CAT on what electric buses do for the community.

    “For those that are tuning in and paying attention to climate change, and our carbon footprint and those matters of the environment, we’re getting a lot of positive feedback from those folks not only for the experience of it, but for the actual doing,” DiMassimo said.

    Given the several months it will take to get the grant money in hand and then accounting for supply chain issues, the new buses which aren’t expected to be on the streets for about 24 months.

    Electric transportation is a key measure in the 100% Savannah Initiative, a program whose goals include getting all of the energy used in Savannah from safe, clean and renewable sources by 2035.

    “This fits in very well to our 100% Savannah Initiative, which we are going hard and strong for, which includes electric vehicle infrastructure,” Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said.

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

  • Civil Rights activists alarmed at Breonna Taylor-type death in Camden
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news
    Insights from The Current’s newsroom

    The death of Breonna Taylor, a Black medical worker killed in her home by Louisville, Ky., police during a botched raid from a no-knock warrant, inspired racial justice protests and, as of last week, federal charges against four officers involved in the raid.

    In Camden County, civil rights activists and lawyers are raising fresh criticism about what they believe is a similar case in which Latoya James, a Black woman, was killed last year when sheriff deputies entered her cousin’s Woodbine home with a search warrant.

    Lawyers for James’ family and the Camden chapter of the NAACP believes that both James and her relative, Varshan Brown, aren’t receiving due justice as a result of the law enforcement action. The NAACP chapter is seeking changes to the Camden County Sheriff’s Office policies that allowed her death to happen.

    Lawyers for the family of Latoya James say they are outraged that the local district attorney has not only exonerated the deputies involved but also is instead prosecuting Varshan Brown for his cousin’s death.

    James was killed in May 2021 when Camden County Sheriff’s deputies executed a drug-related search warrant at 4:51 a.m.

    She was staying at the Woodbine home of Brown, whom the warrant was intended for. Deputies knocked and announced themselves, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, before entering the home and “an exchange of gunfire” erupted between Brown and deputies. In the chaos, James was killed by gunfire and Brown was injured.

    It’s not clear from the GBI or the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s news releases on the killing whether the bullet that killed James was from her cousin Brown or from deputies.

    District Attorney Keith Higgins – who was elected over indicted DA Jackie Johnson — announced in April he would not charge the officers involved in the raid. Instead, he is prosecuting her cousin for her murder.

    “Following entry of the residence, a use of force incident occurred involving CCSO Deputy Downy Casey, CCSO Deputy Michael Blaquiere, and Varshan Brown,” the DA’s office wrote in a news release. “During the incident, Brown and another occupant of the residence, Latoya James, received gunshot wounds, and James was pronounced dead at the scene.”

    A Camden County grand jury indicted Brown for James’ death because, according to a statement by the district attorney, “while in the commission of an Aggravated Assault upon a Public Safety Officer, Brown caused the death of Latoya James.”

    Brown has pleaded not guilty to one count of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault on a public safety officer, one count of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, according to court records.

    He’s awaiting trial while being held in the Brantley County jail.

    DA Higgins’ office said it would not be making the investigative file of the shooting public while prosecutors pursue the charges against Brown.

    The James’ family attorney and the Camden NAACP believe that the district attorney has not adequately investigated the use of force by the sheriff’s department.

    “This is the case of an unarmed Black woman being shot during a botched or a bogus search warrant,” Malik Shabazz, an attorney for James’ family, told reporters last year.

    The Camden County NAACP raised concerns last week after reviewing the body camera footage released by the GBI that recorded moments of last year’s raid. The civil rights activists say they believe the deputies acted in a similar fashion in Woodbine to the officers in Kentucky who executed the controversial no-knock warrant involved in Breonna Taylor’s death.

    According to the group’s analysis of the footage, the police waited a mere three seconds before announcing themselves and the aggressive entry. That didn’t give Brown a reasonable amount of time to answer the door and resolve the matter peacefully.

    An analysis by the Camden County NAACP of how quickly deputies went from knocking on the Woodbine home where Latoya James to bursting in with a battering ram.

    Only one deputy in the Woodbine raid had their body cameras turned on, according to the NAACP. That officer was carrying a riot shield that obstructed most of the camera’s view.

    In Kentucky, state authorities prosecuted one officer in Breonna Taylor’s death (he was acquitted).

    Last week, the Justice Department charged four current and former Louisville officers with violating civil rights law. The agency alleged the officers falsified the warrant leading to the raid and alleged one officer fired blindly into Taylor’s apartment.

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

  • Tybee’s sea turtle gets room to grow
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    A loggerhead sea turtle named Ike, age 2, made a short trip Friday to prepare him for a much longer journey he’ll undertake next year when he’s released into the Atlantic.

    Chantal Audran, acting director of the Tybee Island Marine Science Center, plucked Ike from his upstairs tank at the newly built beachfront museum and carried the 10-pounder downstairs to a 4,500-gallon fiberglass pool in the undercroft where Ike can more freely stretch his flippers. A group of sea campers scooched forward to get nose to nose with Ike at the tank’s viewing window.

    With the campers cheering him on, Ike swam laps around his new home, surfaced for air, splashed Tybee Mayor Shirley Sessions and dispatched a live blue crab with ease.

    “He’s so cute,” said Sessions, who delayed the start of her vacation to attend Ike’s “graduation.”

    Tybee Island Marine Science Center Acting Director Chantal Audran with Ike, a 2-year-old loggerhead sea turtle.

    Staff at the marine science center rescued Ike in 2020 when he was a tiny straggler too weak to climb out of his North Beach nest on his own. He is the latest in a series of rescued loggerheads who serve as the center’s “marine debris ambassador.”

    “You can’t care about something unless you know it,” Audran said. “And so once you attach a name — Ike — and an individual to a species — the loggerhead sea turtle. I believe that gives the stewardship to the human. Once you’ve made a connection, you care more about sea turtles. Once the education is there, once you’ve met an individual, you care that much more.”

    Visitors still ask by name about Admiral, the sea turtle released last year, Audran said. Admiral was one of seven hatchlings a couple from Kentucky illegally snatched from the beach. The marine science center took custody of them when they were found in a hotel room at Admiral’s Inn on Tybee. Admiral’s siblings were released but she became a visitor favorite with her unusual backstory.

    Loggerheads can’t easily be sexed, so the center alternates between male and female names and identities. Ike is named for Ikea, which has donated to the center.

    Ike’s new tank is the largest in the science center’s history, 25 times larger than where he lived previously. It will allow Ike and his successors to strengthen their muscles and sharpen their hunting skills before they’re released. Overhead lights provide Ike with the UV light he needs to grow properly.

    To keep the turtle safe and answer visitors’ questions, a staffer will remain nearby during visiting hours. At night, a custom-made cover will keep out any wily local predators like raccoons.

    Visitors greet Ike the sea turtle in his new tank at the Tybee Island Marine Science Center.

    On Friday, Audran made note of the bubbles exiting Ike’s tail end. “Those are turtle farts,” she stage whispered to the delighted campers.

    Ike will remain in his new tank until next year, when he’s released into the ocean. Until then staffers will keep him well fed. Along with the blue crab, his welcoming meal included a heart-shaped ring of frozen shrimp.

    “He needs the room to move around to gain muscle,” Audran said. “It’s important that when he gets released next year he’s nice and plump.”

    The Tide brings news and observations from The Current staff.

  • Files show Savannah cop disciplined before shooting Carver Village man
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    A Savannah police officer who has been scrutinized after shooting and killing a Carver Village man last month was disciplined three times for not turning on his body camera before traffic stops in Savannah.

    Officer Ernest Ferguson, 27, shot and killed Saudi Arai Lee, 31, on June 24. Since he has been on paid leave while the shooting is investigated, records published by The Current last week showed how Ferguson was previously disciplined and investigated for use-of-force incidents in his year-long stint as a Coastal State Prison guard.

    Now, new records obtained by The Current show Ferguson also had trouble following the rules after he got hired by the Savannah Police Department in April 2021.

    During a seven-month period, Ferguson’s superiors wrote him up three times for violating policy on body-worn cameras.

    Officer Ernest Ferguson

    In three incidents between November 2021 to May 2022, a month and a half before Lee’s shooting, Ferguson didn’t start up his body-worn camera during traffic stops, according to documents obtained via public records request.

    That’s against Savannah Police rules. Ferguson is supposed to turn on his body camera at the start of an interaction. A Jan. 7 report notes that Ferguson turned on his body-camera after a traffic stop had ended and the subject fled.

    “You have it initiated when you go to make a traffic stop. Activate your BWC at that point,” an officer instructs him afterwards, in an exchange captured in the footage.

    Body-worn cameras (BWC) provide a layer of transparency for police departments, when, in the past, it used to be a police officer’s word against a citizen’s. The footage can also be the deciding factor for prosecutors when deciding whether or not a police officer should be taken to court for indictment and conviction after criminal accusations.

    The Chatham County District Attorney’s office cited the body-camera footage in the Savannah Police shooting of Maurice Mincey in July 2021, when clearing the officer of criminal wrongdoing.

    Ferguson’s three written reprimands for not turning on his body-worn camera raise questions in the Carver Village shooting last month, where activists have already been calling for the footage’s release.

    The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is looking into Lee’s shooting in Carver Village while Ferguson is on paid administrative leave.

    Asked whether or not Ferguson’s body-camera footage captured the June 24 shooting, GBI spokesperson Nelly Miles confirmed “there is police body-worn camera for this case” but did not elaborate whose footage that was.

    According to a GBI press release, Ferguson and another officer stopped Lee, who immediately showed his wallet saying it had a weapons permit in it.

    He then “lifted his shirt and pulled a weapon from a holster.”

    The release only says a chase “ensued,” and Lee was shot.

    Since Ferguson’s history at Coastal State Prison has come to light, activists have questioned why he was even hired by the department in the first place.

    The Savannah Police Department previously said a background investigation revealed no issues when Ferguson was hired.

    “At the time of his hire, there were no documented issues or causes for concern with this officer; therefore, there were no additional requirements placed upon this officer,” the Savannah Police Department wrote in a statement.

    On Monday, Rev. Alan Mainor, of the Savannah-chapter of The Racial Justice Network, held a press conference lambasting Mayor Van Johnson for dismissing criticisms and asking for transparency from the police department.

    “We all know he was at Coastal State Prison beating on inmates,” Mainor said. “Why was he hired?”

    The Tide brings news and observations from The Current staff.

    This story was updated to correct the information on the background information. The information came from the Savannah Police Department.

  • Bipartisan vote for same-sex marriage doesn’t include Carter
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    In a rare show of bipartisanship, the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday voted 267-157 to write same-sex marriage into federal law, as lawmakers sought to shore up hard-won rights that it fears the right-leaning U.S. Supreme Court could take away.

    Coastal Georgia’s representative in Congress, Rep. Earl “Buddy” Carter, wasn’t among the 47 Republicans who joined Democrats in approving the Respect for Marriage Act. The measure also would protect interracial marriage and repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

    In a statement provided by his office on Wednesday explaining his vote, Rep. Carter said the issues raised in the legislation were already “settled law,” adding: “I came to Congress to vote on real issues that improve Georgia’s First District, not rushed legislation based on fearmongering rhetoric from the left.”

    Still, more than political bluster and posturing appear to be behind the fear of the bill’s sponsors and supporters that without federal legislation, previously secured rights on marriage and contraception might be rolled back by the U.S. Supreme Court’s right-wing majority. The Court ruled in 2015 that state bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional.

    The constitutional right to abortion was considered “settled law” until the Court last month overturned Roe v. Wade in the case of Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

    In his concurring opinion in Dobbs, Coastal Georgia’s Clarence Thomas said the high court shouldn’t stop with abortion and other rights thought “settled.” The Pin Point native recommended that as a next move, it strike down a half century’s worth of “demonstrably erroneous” precedents establishing the right to contraception, the right to same-sex sexual conduct, and the right to same-sex marriage.

    In the wake of Tuesday’s vote, Wade Herring, Carter’s Democratic opponent in this fall’s election, called the incumbent “dangerously extreme” and said his rival had “once again demonstrated that he puts politics and division before basic human rights and the people he is supposed to represent.

    “We cannot return to a time when marriages were banned because of race or sex,” Herring said in a statement late Wednesday. “We are a diverse nation, with widely differing views and belief systems, but I remain convinced that we can find a way to live together as neighbors in our democracy.”

    The bill now goes to the U.S. Senate for action. Majority Leader Charles Schumer said Wednesday he was working to gather support for the measure.

    The Tide brings news and observations from The Current staff.

  • Army Corps postpones dredging until sea turtles finish nesting
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    Earlier this summer, Catherine Ridley of the nonprofit conservation group One Hundred Miles learned the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers planned to dredge a million cubic yards of material from the Brunswick Harbor just as loggerhead sea turtles were nesting at a record pace on the Georgia coast.

    Ridley knows that hopper dredges and sea turtles don’t mix. In fact, the Corps reported killing, injuring or otherwise “taking” seven sea turtles while dredging in Brunswick in March, well before nesting beckoned even more turtles back to Georgia waters.

    “So anyone who is paying attention knows that if the Corps pushes this forward and begins dredging in the middle of loggerhead nesting season, they’re going to have blood on their hands,” Ridley said Thursday.

    But shortly after Ridley made that statement the Corps did an about-face on the dredging decision.

    A juvenile loggerhead glides to the water’s surface at the Tybee Island Marine Science Center in 2018.

    “To confirm, the Corps had an opportunity to dredge Brunswick Harbor starting Aug. 1, 2022.  However, after further consideration we have decided to forego the opportunity,” Savannah Corps spokeswoman Cheri Pritchard wrote in an email Friday. “Our next scheduled hopper dredging event for the Brunswick Harbor entrance channel will begin no earlier than Dec. 15, 2022. We understand the importance of minimizing the loss of endangered species and have been coordinating with the National Marine Fisheries Service and other sea turtle experts so USACE can continue to reduce the probability of harm to wildlife (take) on future projects.”

    Loggerheads are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Other sea turtles are also found in Georgia waters and beaches, including the rarer and more petite Kemp’s Ridley, which is listed as endangered; and the green turtle, a hard-shelled herbivore named for its green fat tissue. Greens are also threatened.

    But loggerheads are the focus of turtle conservation on Georgia beaches from Little Tybee to Cumberland. As of Friday, loggerheads had laid 3,604 nests on Georgia beaches this summer. Nesting peaks in June but typically continues into August. This year could rival the totals in 2019 when researchers counted a record 3,950 nests.

    Hopper Dredge Terrapin Island in Miami

    Despite its stated commitment to harm reduction, the Corps in May finalized an environmental study for Brunswick Harbor’s widening, expansion, operation and maintenance that indicated using a hopper dredge in the summer would have no significant impact on sea turtles or other endangered aquatic life.

    Savannah District commander Col. Joseph Geary then rescinded a policy limiting hopper dredge usage in Brunswick Harbor.

    One Hundred Miles and other wildlife advocates had opposed the conclusion of the corps’ study.

    In early July, Ridley received notice from the Corps that it would be using Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company’s Terrapin Island hopper dredge for approximately 25-30 days of dredging in Brunswick.

    A hopper dredge works like a giant vacuum cleaner, slurping up sand and anything else, including sea turtles, in its path.

    “It’s not an easy death for these animals that are sucked up and just chopped into pieces, essentially,” Ridley said.

    Along with seasonal timing to reduce harm, advocates would like to see fewer hopper dredges employed around sea turtles.

    “You know, there are other dredges available. And certainly, we would challenge the corps with all of their resources and their expertise to put their attention to finding the dredge that doesn’t kill turtles,” Ridley said. “They certainly are smart enough to do that.”

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

  • Mining company sues Army Corps over project near Okefenokee
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    Alabama-based Twin Pines Minerals filed suit against the Army Corps of Engineers last week, claiming the federal agency erred when it bowed to “stakeholder pressure” earlier this month and made it harder for the company to get permits to mine near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

    Twin Pines has proposed mining for titanium dioxide and other heavy minerals about three miles from the edge of the Okefenokee along a line of ancient sand dunes called Trail Ridge. Conservation groups have protested the project since it was first proposed in 2019, saying it threatens to disrupt the flow of water into and out of the environmentally and culturally important swamp.

    In 2020 and 2021, the Corps had examined the land to be mined and determined that none of it was subject to the Corps’ jurisdiction. Because the federal government lacked jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act to regulate this project, Twin Pines needed only state permits to proceed, the Corps indicated.

    But on June 3 the Corps’ reversed that decision saying it had failed to consult properly with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, which has long-standing ties to the Okefenokee area. The land in and around the refuge, the largest east of the Mississippi, is believed to contain numerous burial grounds.

    With more than 400,000 acres of remote wilderness, the Okefenokee Swamp is among Georgia’s wildest places. It is home to some 200 species of birds and 50 reptiles, including American alligators and snowy egrets.

    In its filing, Twin Pines maintains “The Twin Pines Approved Jurisdictional Determinations were issued in compliance with all laws, regulations, and policies — including the tribal consultation policy — in effect when they were issued.”

    More specifically, the company contends that the Corps has not historically had a policy of consulting with tribes on determining its regulatory authority over wetlands.

    Through its spokesperson Chip Stewart, Twin Pines declined to comment on the lawsuit.

    Effects questioned

    Josh Marks, an environmental attorney who was a leader in the fight against the Dupont Company’s mining proposal’s in the 1990s, said Twin Pines “simply can’t be trusted.”

    “This lawsuit is disappointing but not surprising, as it is yet another example of how TPM simply can’t be trusted,” he wrote in an email.   “Right after the Corps of Engineers announced its decision, Steve Ingle, Twin Pine’s president, said he was fine with it, that Twin Pines would follow the regulations before them at any given time, he was not surprised by the change, and Twin Pines has no say in what regulatory agencies do.  But now only three weeks later he has flip flopped.   The most glaring previous example was when he told the Corps and the State of Georgia in certified permit applications that Twin Pines had a lease on the neighbor’s property for mining, which was totally false.”

    Twin Pines’ complaint states, “The mining process is environmentally benign.”

    Marks disagrees.

    An aerial view of Twin Pines Minerals’ staging area in Charlton County. Photo by Joseph Kelly for Georgia River Network

    “This flies in the face of the overwhelming scientific consensus that Twin Pines project will in fact lower the swamp’s water level, as evidenced by reports from two of the nation’s preeminent hydrologists at UGA and a letter signed by over 40 scientists last year,” Marks wrote. “And contrary to their statement that the titanium dioxide they seek is desperately needed, the largest titanium dioxide producer in the country, Chemours, stated only a few months ago that there was ample titanium dioxide supply for the next 10+ years and that they had no intent to buy or mine titanium dioxide from next to the Okefenokee.”   

    Marks called for Twin Pines to “abandon their plans and instead commit to permanently protect the Okefenokee for current and future generations.”

    Who’s involved

    Attorneys filed the complaint in U.S. District Court in Waycross on Wednesday. Mark D. Johnson of Gilbert, Harrell Sumerford & Martin P.C. in Brunswick, and Lewis Jones and John L. Fortuna of Jones Fortuna LP in Decatur are representing Twin Pines.

    The complaint names both the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plus five individuals within the Army and the Corps as defendants. They are: Secretary of the Army Christine E. Wormuth, Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Michael L. Connor, Chief of Engineers Ltg. Scott A. Spellmon, Commander of the South Atlantic Division Jason E. Kelly, and Commander of the Savannah District Col. Joseph R. Geary.

    An Army spokesman indicated the Army does not comment on ongoing litigation.

    Editor’s note: This article was updated June 28 with a photo credit for the aerial photo of Twin Pines’ staging area.

  • Quick look: Coastal Georgia runoff races of note

    Tuesday’s runoff election featured a number of local races affecting Coastal Georgia. Here’s the results from the most-watched contests: 

    Democrats in Georgia’s First District selected Wade Herring to battle the incumbent Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter this fall to represent Coastal Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives.

    Herring, a corporate lawyer and well-known community activist from Savannah, beat three-time Democratic candidate Joyce Griggs, in Tuesday’s runoff by leveraging a huge war chest and a well-oiled advertising campaign that focused on bread-and-butter party issues such as access to abortion and gun control. 

    By 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, Herring had 61.9% of the 20,642 votes counted, according to unofficial results posted by the Georgia Secretary of State. 

    In Glynn County Rick Townsend, the longtime local education advocate, beat his Republican rival Bob Duncan to represent their party in the race for the solidly conservative state House District 179 this fall.

    Republican challenger Mike Hodges, who campaigned on his background as a University of Georgia Bulldog, just like Republican Herschel Walker, also won his party runoff for the District 3 state senate race. The seat represents Glynn and McIntosh residents in the upper house of the state legislature. Hodges beat rival Jeff Jones by a two-to-one margin.

    In Chatham County, lawyer Joe Huffman outpaced Richard Sanders to become the new judge for Recorders Court. Sanders had received the most votes in the primary May 24, but did not have enough in that three-way race to reach the 50.1% threshold necessary to avoid a runoff. Huffman, who had the endorsement of Chatham County Sheriff John Wilcher, pulled in more votes Tuesday night and won more than 61% of the votes, according to unofficial results. 

    Although most of Tuesday’s runoff races were for Democratic Party candidates, the Recorder’s Court Judge race is nonpartisan. It had the highest turnout of all runoff contests in Chatham County, indicating that hundreds of Republicans or Independents also turned up to cast a ballot for this crucial position that decides issues of bail in misdemeanor criminal cases.

    The marquee race in Coastal Georgia, however, was the Democratic runoff for the U.S. House of Representatives contest this fall.

    Griggs, who often cited her hardscrabble life as the daughter of sharecroppers, her meritorious career as an U.S. Army officer and her work for low-income Black families as reasons that she would make a great elected official, handily won the primary, but failed to reach the simple majority of votes cast last month.

  • Trial for Glynn County police chief, officers indicted for misconduct moved to early 2023

    The trial for four former Glynn County Police officers, including its chief, who were accused of covering up misconduct in the department’s narcotics unit, has been pushed to early 2023. 

    The trial was scheduled for August 22, for the Glynn County Police Department officials indicted for allegedly covering up a narcotics officer’s affair with an informant and failing to investigate different narcotics officers upon learning they acted unethically. 

    Scheduling conflicts with the officers’ lawyers caused the case to be rescheduled for early 2023, according to a court order on Friday. An official date has not yet been set.

    The delayed trial date will mark nearly three years since charges were filed against former Chief John Powell, former Chief of Staff Brian Scott, former Capt. David Hassler, and former Sgt. David Haney on Feb. 28, 2020. 

    Five days before that, a Black man went for a run in Glynn County and never made it home. 

    The man, 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, was chased and killed by three white men in the Satilla Shores neighborhood. One of those men was a former Glynn County Police officer and former investigator with the Brunswick Judicial District Attorney’s office.

    All three men were eventually convicted of murder and other charges and then later convicted on federal hate crimes charges. The district attorney would later be voted out of office and indicted for allegedly showing favor to the men convicted of killing Arbery.

    But it took time and national outrage to reach that result. The Glynn County Police Department and the DA’s office initially displayed inertia in the weeks after Arbery was killed — it was indicative of a greater culture of ducking accountability at the agencies, according to a previous investigation by The Current

    That culture became apparent in 2018, when Glynn County residents empaneled for the grand jury took it on themselves to investigate the lack of oversight in the police department – leading to the 2020 misconduct indictments brought against the four Glynn County Police officers.

    Most of the charges have to do with the officers violating their oath of office in which they vowed to “faithfully discharge (their) duties fairly and impartially” for the Glynn County Police Department. 

    John Powell
    Former Glynn County Police Department Chief John Powell

    Lawyers for Powell, Scott, Haney and Hassler sought to get the charges dismissed by the judge, claiming the charges were too vague and not actually criminal, court filings show. Violating police policy was not the same as breaking the law, they argued.

    “Prosecuting public officials, including police officers, requires a statute that clearly sets forth the element of the offense and may not be left open to general standards of behavior that the prosecutor or the community expects of public officials,” argued David Haney’s lawyers, Donald Samuel and Amanda Clark Palmer, of Atlanta in November 2021.

    Brunswick Judge Anthony Harrison disagreed and denied their motions. 

    The men were first accused of failing to investigate after being notified several times that an officer in the Glynn/Brunswick Narcotics Enforcement Team had an “innapropriate sexual relationship” with a confidential informant, according to the indictments.

    In late 2017, different investigators within GBNET told superiors that officer James Cassada was having an affair with an informant, the indictments say. Even Cassada’s wife told officers, but no internal investigation nor administrative action was ever started as a result, the indictments allege. 

    Cassada was having affairs with “one or more informants who were providing information to the police about drug offenses” and had problems with alcohol, Haney’s lawyers wrote in a filing.

    The affair created problems for criminal prosecution, calling both the officer and the informant’s credibility into question, and led to the dismissal of dozens of drug charges, according to an article in The Brunswick News.

    Cassada resigned from the force while under investigation in February 2019, his file states.

    Chief Powell and his chief of staff, Scott, were also indicted for failing to start internal investigations after learning that a narcotics officer had a close friendship with a man convicted of selling methamphetamine.

    Glynn County Police Department vehicle

    Powell also failed to investigate after he learned GBNET officers were working rogue investigations without approval in Camden County and in Florida, the indictment alleges. 

    In the Florida case, GBNET officers asked a Glynn County Police officer to initiate a traffic stop on Feb. 22, 2018.

    Then, when the traffic stop led to a crash where a passenger died, the GBNET officers asked that it be omitted “from (the officer’s) official report involving a fatality that GBNET officers had in fact initiated the traffic stop,” the indictment states.

    Powell never started an internal investigation, it states.

    Chief Powell and Scott (who was serving as Vidalia’s police chief when indicted) were both fired from their jobs, their files show. Hassler and Haney both retired in 2019. 

  • Spaceport Camden leader continues job hunt in Florida

    Camden County Administrator Steve Howard, who also serves as the project leader for Spaceport Camden, was among three finalists who interviewed with the Seminole (Florida) County Commission Friday for the county administrator position.

    After the public interviews, which were streamed live online, the five-member commission rejected all three candidates and voted to start its search again with a new search firm.

    Howard became Camden Administrator 15 years ago and added the role of Spaceport Camden project leader in 2014. He’s been a staunch advocate of the controversial project, which aims to launch small commercial rockets from a former industrial site over Cumberland Island National Seashore.

    Camden County Administrator and Spaceport Camden Project Leader Steve Howard is shown during a job interview in Seminole County Friday.

    But he’s also been job hunting as opposition to the spaceport has put the project in limbo.

    The Federal Aviation Administration issued Camden a launch site operator’s license in December but in a March referendum voters turned out in a nearly three to one margin against the spaceport. The referendum is now the subject of a lawsuit, with the Georgia Supreme Court expected to rule on its legitimacy this summer. Meanwhile, conservation groups have sued the FAA over the issuance of the license, say the agency did not properly evaluate the project’s harmful impacts on public health, private property, and the environment.

    Howard did not include any information about the spaceport in his resume or cover letter to Seminole County, a public records response indicates. But asked by a commissioner Friday about his experience with the private sector in his current role, Howard pointed to Spaceport Camden.

    “I recognize you’re not going to do a spaceport in Seminole, but I’ve had the luxury of working with SpaceX, Blue Origin, Bill Gates, some companies associated with Bill Gates as well. So all that’s private sector driven,” he said.

    The county has not made public any agreements with any commercial rocket companies. Camden has spent $11 million on the spaceport project but has not yet purchased the land for the facility or built any infrastructure. Camden’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year does not earmark any money for spaceport.

    During the Seminole County Commission meeting’s public comment period, resident Nancy Harmon said she had lived in Camden County and worked at King’s Bay Naval Base. She praised Howard’s work on spaceport as “great” for diversifying the economy but said the environment in the county “sucks.” She had issues with how Howard’ could play two roles at once.

    “He’s an industry man. He’s worked very hard with industry to get what he wants,” she said. “And he was the executive (for) spaceport the whole time pretty much that he was their administrator. I have an issue with that. I think that’s a conflict of interest. I don’t think that was very professional.”

    Shortly after interviewing Howard and the two other finalists the Seminole Commission voted unanimously to reject the candidates and start the search process anew. The commission agreed none of the men was a good fit for their needs.

    Howard is still one of six finalists for a county manager position in Collier County, Fla. That county commission expects to hear presentations from the finalists at its meeting on June 14.

    In late April, Howard said told The Current he was honored to be a finalist for the position. “Me and my wife have family in the region,” he said. “Collier County, Florida has a population of  over 384,000 and the current manager’s salary is $230,000.”

  • The Tide: Runoff debates set June 6
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    There are a few runoff elections in Coastal Georgia on June 21, and there are three statewide. will stream the debates live on June 6 and show two of them that evening on GPB-TV. The Atlanta Press Club debates will be:

    • 2:15 p.m. Monday, June 6: Democratic candidates for Secretary of State: Dee Dawkins-Haigler and Bee Nguyen.
    • 3:15 p.m. Monday: Democratic candidates for Lieutenant Governor: Charlie Bailey and Kwanza Hall.
    • 4:30 p.m. Monday: Democratic candidates for Insurance Commissioner: Raphael Baker and Janice Laws Robinson.
    • 5:30 p.m. Monday: Democratic candidates for Labor Commissioner: William Boddie and Nicole Horn.
    • 7 p.m. Monday: GPB-TV showing for Secretary of State debate recorded earlier
    • 7:30 p.m. Monday: GPB-TV showing for Lieutenant Governor debate recorded earlier

    Here are links to earlier recorded primary candidate debates:

    • Candidates for Georgia Secretary of State: Democrats, May 2, sponsored by Georgia Public Broadcasting and Atlanta Press Club.
    • Candidates for Georgia Insurance Commissioner: Democrats, May 2. Sponsored by Georgia Public Broadcasting and Atlanta Press Club.
    • Candidates for Georgia Lieutenant Governor: Democrats, May 3. Sponsored by Georgia Public Broadcasting and Atlanta Press Club.

    The Tide brings observations, news from The Current GA staff members.

  • 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

    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.
    A companion “Hungry for History” talk is available online at

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

  • Tybee bans beach smoking
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    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
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    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%
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    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
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    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
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    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
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    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
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    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
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    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
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    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
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    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

    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
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    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.

    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 Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    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 Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    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.

    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
    The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

    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