– Sept. 6, 2023 –

Editor’s note:  The Sapelo Island ferry schedule will be adjusted Sept. 7, 11, and 12 to accommodate island residents attending the scheduled zoning hearing and county commission meetings in Darien related to Hog Hammock. The last ferry typically departs Meridian at 5:30 p.m. for Sapelo, but will be delayed until the end of the meetings on those days, we learned after the initial publication of this newsletter.

Good morning. With power returned to Coastal Georgians after last week’s brush with Idalia, we’re looking at electric bills, specifically how Plant Vogtle’s expansion will eat into the budget of Georgia Power customers.

Also on today’s agenda are imminent zoning changes to Sapelo’s historic Hog Hammock community, a report of a surprisingly large number of swallow-tail kites along the Altamaha, and your introduction to our newest colleague here at The Current.

What Vogtle will cost you

With the first of two new reactors at Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle finally producing electricity as of July 31 — more than seven years past its initial deadline — it’s time to sort out who is going to pay for the billions-over-budget project. Capitol Beat’s Dave Williams has a breakdown of the agreement Georgia Power reached last week with the state Public Service Commission’s Public Interest Advocacy Staff and representatives of environmental and consumer advocacy groups. “If the PSC approves the agreement, the average residential customer’s monthly bill would increase by $8.95,” Williams wrote.

But as PSC candidate Patty Durand notes in her newsletter, the total increase is even greater. “They’re not counting the $5.42/month for Unit 3 that just hit bills in August,” she wrote, putting the total closer to $14.50 a month. “That is an enormous bill increase for one power plant producing 2200 megawatts.”

Durand was supposed to face District 2 Commissioner Tim Echols in the 2022 general election. But that race, along with the race for the District 3 seat, was delayed by a still-unresolved challenge to the way Georgia conducts these races. Plaintiffs allege the Black vote in the Atlanta area is diluted because the commmisioners are elected in a state-wide race, even though they must reside in their geographic district. The 11th District Court of Appeals heard arguments in December but has not yet issued a ruling, despite both sides requesting expediency.

Plant Vogtle Unit 3 Credit: Georgia Power

Hogg Hummock zoning changes proposed

Proposed changes to Sapelo Island’s Hogg Hummock district — also known as Hog Hammock — have Gullah Geechee residents and supporters alarmed.

“McIntosh County is proposing zoning changes that would allow developers to purchase large tracts of land in the historic Hogg Hummock district where the Gullah Geechee have lived for centuries,” the Council on American-Islamic Relations wrote in an action alert. “This seemingly mundane change poses an enormous threat to the community and their way of life.”

The proposed changes delete reference to Hogg Hammock’s “unique needs in regard to its historic resources, traditional patterns of development, threat from land speculators and housing forms.” They would also allow larger houses to be built and set a minimum size that’s larger than some of the traditional cottages.

Along with the proposed changes, the 5:30 p.m. start of Thursday’s zoning hearing is another sore spot for Sapelo residents. That time coincides with the last daily ferry trip back to the island.

No vote will take place Thursday. But final consideration of the matter will be addressed by the McIntosh County Board of Commissioners five days later at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023 at the McIntosh County Courthouse.

Hog Hammock residents won a settlement from the county last year that promised improved services for the island. And in the last legislative session, Gullah-Geechee residents fought for better representation on the Sapelo Island Heritage Authority.

What: McIntosh County Planning and Zoning Commission hearing at which the commission will consider an amendment to the zoning of the Hog Hammock District.

When: 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023

Where: McIntosh County Courthouse, Main Courtroom, 310 Northway, Darien

Sapelo Island
Sign designating the Historic Hog Hammock Community on Sapelo Island. Credit: Jeffery M. Glover/ The Current

The Current welcomes Liberty County reporter

Longtime Georgia-based watchdog reporter Robin Kemp joined The Current on Tuesday as our accountability reporter based in Liberty County. You may remember Kemp’s name — and no, she’s no relation to the governor — from the 2020 presidential election. “Kemp … was the only journalist to watch all 21 hours of Clayton County’s marathon tabulation of absentee votes,” the Washington Post wrote in its profile of her, noting that the Clayton votes pushed Biden into the lead.

As the founder of The Clayton Crescent, Robin continued for more than three years to publish independent, accountability news for her neighbors. Now she’s turning her dedication and expertise to Coastal Georgia. Robin loves coastal culture, dogs, the blues, photography, and good people. Send Liberty County news tips to her at: robin.thecurrent@gmail.com.

Robin Kemp

Kites gather on Altamaha

Wildlife biologists at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources recently discovered the largest roost of swallow-tailed kites ever documented in the state.

“Following up on a satellite-tagged kite, DNR wildlife technician Andy Day found the roost in early August along the Altamaha River south of Glennville,” the agency reports in its Georgia Wild newsletter. “A count by helicopter totaled 612 kites.”

Up to 200 pairs of these graceful black-and-white raptors nest in Georgia each year. Others migrate through the state on their way back to their wintering grounds in South America. The birds, considered a species of special concern in Georgia, gather to rest and to feast on insects.

Biologists say the roost on private land along the Altamaha represented more swallow-tailed kites in one place than all of the kites counted in an entire day of aerial roost surveys on the Savannah, Ogeechee, Altamaha and Satilla rivers.

Swallow-tailed kites crowd a treetop at the roost along the Altamaha River
Swallow-tailed kites crowd a treetop at the roost along the Altamaha River Credit: Tim Keyes/DNR

If you have feedback, questions, concerns, or just like what you see, let us know at thecurrentga@gmail.com.

Georgia Power agrees to limit cost recovery for Plant Vogtle reactors

The agreement, which requires a vote by the Georgia Public Service Commission would mean the utility’s shareholders would pay $2.6 billion.

Continue reading…

Robin Kemp joins The Current as accountability reporter

The Current, Georgia’s only nonprofit investigative news organization, has hired Robin Kemp as an accountability reporter for Liberty County as the newsroom builds on its mission to fill the vacuum of local, data-driven news in Coastal Georgia.

Continue reading…

Sapelo natives reach agreement in long fight with county over basic services

Lawsuit, in which a jury trial was set to begin this week in Savannah federal court, was attempt to force the county to provide Hogg Hummock basic public services that homeowners pay for with taxes but which have been denied them.

Continue reading…

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Mary Landers is a reporter in Coastal Georgia focusing on the environment for The Current. It's a topic she covered for nearly 24 years at the Savannah Morning News, where she began and ended her time...