Sunday Solutions — Oct. 15, 2023

In Coastal Georgia, the collisions sparked by change were on full display in recent days. The struggle to keep a family’s hard-earned land, a small city’s challenge to stay livable and viable, and business incentives that outpace the abilities to capture growth. It’s all here.

Josiah “Jazz” Watts (left) hands out “Keep Sapelo Geechee” stickers to people arriving for a Sept. 11, 2023, meeting at the McIntosh County courthouse on rezoning Hogg Hummock. Credit: Robin Kemp/The Current

Sapelo community sues over zoning

Late Thursday, members of Hogg Hummock community on Sapelo Island, sued the McIntosh County Commission to stop the zoning that would allow larger dwellings to be built in the newly defined Hog Hammock District. The residents, all descendants of enslaved people who worked the island’s plantations, believe the move is discriminatory and would eventually force them off land they own as taxes increase. The complaint also says the county did not follow normal process for notifying residents of the pending changes as versions of the new rules were approved. The move is the most recent attempt to protect the last intact Gullah Geechee community on the coast. The Current’s Mary Landers has an update on the story. To catch up on the story that’s pitted the county commission against the community residents, here’s a page with stories and documents from the coverage.

people sit on dais
The Walthourville City Council must decide whether to propose a city property tax to make up for budget shortfalls. Credit: Robin Kemp / The Current

A town faces tough times

The Current’s Robin Kemp brings us the story from Walthourville in Liberty County where officials and residents learned Tuesday that they must find new and quick sources of revenue or face losing their city charter. After a tough appraisal from the Georgia Municipal Association and the city clerk, the city council must hold 3 quick public hearings in order to implement a property tax. The gaps, which may be from overly optimistic budgeting, must be filled to pay for at least 3 basic city services like fire protection, law enforcement and wastewater treatment in order to stay incorporated. The news was hard for the town of 3,800 that was chartered in 1974 by a group of women who became Walthourville’s city officials until the first official election. The move drew national attention because it was the first city in the United States to be run entirely by women. During the Tuesday meeting, one of those founders, the city’s first clerk, Molene Burke, 91, was honored by officials and the Georgia Municipal Clerks Association.

Woman sitting by flowers holds framed certificate
Molene Burke, Walthourville’s first city clerk, was recognized by the Georgia Municipal Clerks Association at the Oct. 10, 2023, city council meeting. Credit: Robin Kemp/The Current GA

From the air: Hyundai site

We’re a few days shy of the one year anniversary of the groundbreaking for the Hyundai Motor Group Metaplant America in north Bryan County — a project that is already changing the face of Coastal Georgia. The Current’s Justin Taylor took his drone out for a spin to show us what’s been happening in the past year. Click here to see an aerial view from this week.

Quiz time!

Here’s your weekly news quiz! Last week’s quiz was especially competitive, with just five players making it onto the leaderboard.

Want your chance to be featured in next week’s leaderboard? Leave a first name or nickname so we can keep track of your score.

Leaderboard 10/8:
First Place (8/10): Savannah Agenda, Mark
Second Place (7/10): Peaches, CSM
Third Place (5/10): TW, Bill

A large container ship passes through Savannah's city front.
A large container ship passes through Savannah’s city front. Justin Taylor/The Current GA Credit: Justin Taylor/The Current

Port looks to grow up, down for new ships

Last week brought a large shipping container of news from Georgia Ports Authority with the story from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the authority has requested a study to dig deeper into the Savannah harbor. GPA’s CEO Griff Lynch told after Thursday’s annual State of the Ports luncheon that the port is turning away business because the Savannah River isn’t deep enough. The Georgia Department of Transportation approved a plan in January to raise the suspension bridge by raising cables during a 30-year inspection process set next year. Now it appears raising the Savannah River bridge a bit may not be enough to accommodate the larger ships now being built which would require at least a depth of 50 feet. The powerful success of the port, now home to the largest container terminal in the Western Hemisphere, is much like a strong hurricane that creates its own weather system. Additional ships will be needed to fuel it, and the next steps will affect more than the harbor itself. The most recent dredge project to 47 feet cost $1 billion, half of which went to environmental mitigation projects. The requested study for additional depth would also consider widening the river channel, presenting new environmental challenges for the next dig.

Ambassador James F. Jeffrey answers questions Friday on CSPAN.

A close view on the Middle East situation

It’s rare to get a timely opportunity to have expert information on a matter like the Israel-Hamas conflict, and this expert doesn’t get much closer: Retired Ambassador James F. Jeffrey, who’s served in Turkey, Iraq, and as a special envoy to Syria and to the Global Coalition To Defeat ISIS, will be in Savannah Thursday to speak on “A New World Disorder” to the Savannah Council on World Affairs. Jeffrey is one of the nation’s most senior diplomats with experience in political, security and energy issues in the Middle East. The 7:30 p.m. meeting is open to the public; $10 for guests, free for students, in Liston Hall at Skidaway Community Church, 50 Diamond Causeway. Details at this link.

Scales of justice

Your second cup: Prosecuting conundrums

The state’s new Prosecuting Attorneys Oversight Commission is now formed and working. On a similar topic, ProPublica has published several stories that bring differing perspectives to the conversations about the roles of state prosecutors. None is from Georgia, but we find the challenges very familiar with few proven solutions in sight. Perhaps it’s easier to read about common problems can’t all be traced to one person, but to a system broken or bent over time. Here are two stories: one about how politics can undermine an elected prosecutor and one where a police officer refused to testify in murder trials and other felonies in protest of the prosecution system. Discuss.

Hogg Hummock residents challenge zoning in court

Complaint alleges new zoning discriminates against the Gullah-Geechee descendants of enslaved workers, didn’t follow proper process for zoning changes.

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Walthourville budget runs short, may force property tax

Walthourville faces shortages, will likely need to implement property tax to stay afloat.

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Plant Vogtle hits another delay; lawsuit settled

The problem in one of the reactor’s four pumps was found during pre-operational testing and startup of the unit, which had been expected to go into service between the fourth quarter of this year and the first quarter of 2024.

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Stacey Abrams: Unfinished business or new horizons?

Recent speech didn’t address past, left no real clues about what’s next, but her presence with the base was unmistakable.

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Georgia’s controversial 2021 voting law overhaul survives preliminary legal challenge

Barring an imminent reversal of Boulee’s court ruling, the rules state lawmakers created in the sprawling 2021 election legislation will remain in effect for the 2024 election cycle.

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Legislative panel adopts recommendations for dual enrollment program

The panel suggested the state look to increase the number of “articulated agreements” between the University System of Georgia and the state’s technical colleges, which allow technical college students to transfer after two years to complete their degrees at a four-year state college or university without losing credits.

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One step forward, one step back in prosecution of Jackie Johnson in Arbery case

Former Brunswick area district Attorney Jackie Johnson prosecution faces repeated delays due to her lawyer’s other commitments, even after a judge set new deadlines to get the Ahmaud Arbery interference case moving.

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Slideshow: Hyundai metaplant site

The plant on 3,000 acres will employ around 8,500 people and is set to build electric vehicles. Hyundai will partner with LG to build batteries there for the cars.

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Susan Catron is managing editor for The Current GA. She is based in Coastal Georgia and has more than two decades of experience in Georgia newspapers. Contact her at Susan...