Few stories in 2021 – or any other year for that matter – are likely to have the long term impact on Bryan County as that of the state’s purchase of the Bryan County Mega-Site.
State and local officials say the 2,284-acre site in North Bryan near the interchange at I-16 and Highway 280 will likely attract what Bryan County Commission Chairman Carter Infinger recently called a “regionally transformative manufacturing facility which will provide economic opportunity for up to 10,000 people in this coastal region.”
The state paid $61 million for the site in May, with Bryan County chipping in $9 million, local officials said.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp touted Bryan County’s massive Mega-Site as one of the best in the nation during a visit to the site in early June.
“Welcome to the hottest mega- site in the country,” Kemp said as he took the podium on a hot and humid afternoon.
“And I’m not just talking temperature wise, either.” Standing beneath a canopy erected off a dirt road somewhere about a mile from Highway 280 and not far from I-16, Kemp proceeded to sing the praises of a site first put together in 2015 in a failed effort to bring a Volvo plant to Georgia.
He was clearly preaching to the choir.
“This is what we’d hoped for,” said longtime Development Authority of Bryan County member Sean Register, at the time. “This is going to be as big as Gulf Stream, but it’s not going to fly.”
The site is being managed by the Savannah Harbor-Interstate 16 Corridor Joint Development Authority, which includes Bryan, Bulloch, Chatham and Effingham counties.
Here's a look back at some of the stories the Bryan County News covered in 2021:
Following an investment of $19 million, the new interchange at Interstate 95 at Belfast Keller Road in Bryan County opened to traffic after months of construction.
While Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff won Georgia’s seats in the U.S. Senate runoff election, Republicans easily took Bryan County. Incumbent U.S. senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler outpolled Ossoff and Warnock by a 2-1 margin in votes in Bryan County.
First-term Richmond Hill City Councilman Mark Ott resigned from his Post 3 seat citing personal reasons.
Memorial Health University Medical Center’s plan to build a freestanding emergency room in Richmond Hill hit a roadblock in the form of other area hospitals. An appeal by St. Joseph’s/ Candler, Effingham Hospital and Liberty Regional Medical Center led the state Department of Community Health to reverse it’s awarding of a certificate of need to Memorial Health.
Bryan County Schools Superintendent Dr. Paul Brooksher said school officials were working on plans to administer the COVID-19 vaccination. At the time, Brooksher said it was unclear how many of the school system’s 1,400 employees were interested in getting a vaccine. Responses to an earlier survey showed about 73 percent wanted the shot, but about 500 employees didn’t respond.
In what would be the first of many discussions regarding the Bryan County Schools mask mandate, members of the Bryan County Board of Education heard it from both sides at their March 25 meeting in Richmond Hill. At the time, the school system said it planned to maintain the mask mandate through the rest of the school year.
Officials held a grand opening ceremony for Ash Branch Manor, the new 70-apartment complex for seniors in Pembroke built and managed by National Church Residences, a nonprofit, nondenominational faith-based organization.
Les Fussell defeated Marcus Thompson in a special election to fill the Richmond Hill Post 3 council seat vacated in January by Mark Ott. Fussell was sworn in at the next city council meeting.
A growing county means growing government. That was again illustrated when Bryan County Commissioners approved a request by Sheriff Mark Crowe to add four more deputies as well as positions for an E-911 director and assistant director.
Richmond Hill paid tribute to the late Betty Miner, the first woman to serve on city council. Miner died in January at the age of 87. She served on the council in the early 1970s, and was also the first woman to serve the city as mayor pro tem. She and her husband, Dickie, owned Miner’s Service Station and she also worked in real estate.
Some 500 members of the Richmond Hill High School Class of 2021 received their diplomas in Brunswick. Bryan County High School’s Class of 2021 graduated 110 seniors at Redskins Stadium.
Frances Meeks finally got to tour the school that bears her name. A year after Frances Meeks Elementary opened its doors to students, Meeks was guest of honor during a dedication ceremony attended by family, friends, educators and school officials.
Residents of Richmond Hill came together to celebrate the grand re-opening of Zion Baptist Church Prayer House, located at the intersection of Brisbon Road and Highway 144. Established in 1899, the church has been vacant for over 40 years. Naturally the church became dilapidated. It took a community wide effort to restore the church.
St. Joseph’s/Candler cut the ribbon on its new urgent care facility in Richmond Hill. The 10,000-square foot facility on Highway 144 in front of Publix is a $4 million investment in Richmond Hill and will have an annual payroll of $500,000.
Efforts to provide needed broadband service to Georgians took a step forward as PSC Commissioner Tim Echols and representatives from Coastal Electric Cooperative and Darien Communications announced the formation of a new broadband provider in Southeast Georgia, Coastal Fiber, Inc., which will offer high-speed internet service to 16,000 homes and businesses in Liberty, Bryan and Long counties.
Approximately 25-30 people stood alongside Highway 144 in Richmond Hill to protest the Bryan County Schools mask mandate, which had been reinstituted due to concerns over rising COVID-19 numbers.
The Bryan County Commission voted unanimously to have Andrew S. Johnson fill the unexpired term of former District 4 Commissioner Brad Brookshire. Johnson was formally sworn into his new post and will serve until December 2022. Brookshire announced his intent to resign on Aug. 10 and it took effect after he moved out of District 4 a few days later.
Bryan County is the fastest-growing county in Georgia and the sixth-fastest growing in the United States, according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau. Overall growth was at 48 percent, meaning more than 14,000 people moved to Bryan County since the last Census was conducted in 2010. Population gains were mostly in the south end of the county -- largely in Richmond Hill and the Belfast area -- however, growth also increased solidly in Pembroke and other North Bryan communities.
Bryan County provided $9 million to the state for the purchase of the 2,284 acre Mega-Site, according to county records, and will fund the expense through proceeds from Development Authority of Bryan County land sales and payment in lieu of tax agreements with local industries. The state paid $61 million for the site in Black Creek near the I-16 interchange. Officials say it is the largest such purchase of land in the state’s history.
The Savannah hospital St. Joseph’s/Candler is buying six acres of county land in the Interstate Centre at the I-16 interchange on Highway 280 near the Bryan County Mega-Site. The hospital plans to build a medical office building on the site that can be expanded to up to 40,000 square feet, according to hospital officials, and will ultimately mean an investment of some $40 million in North Bryan.
Bryan County Schools placed at or near the top of the heap among area school systems on end of grade assessment tests for the 2020-2021 school year. In all, Bryan County students in grades 3 through high school beat out the majority of their counterparts in 16 other districts in coastal Georgia in the percentage of students scoring at or above grade level in subject matters ranging from reading and language arts to math and science.
The Richmond Hill High School JROTC girls finished first and the boys second at the state championship in Griffin, Ga.
Richmond Hill High School graduate Jackson Martin earned a perfect score on a college-level Advanced Placement (AP) Exam in spring 2021. Jackson, a freshman at Georgia Tech, is reportedly one of only 375 students in the world to earn every point possible on the AP Research Exam.
With great weather and residents’ eager to make up for lost time, Richmond Hill's biggest event of the year, the Great Ogeechee Seafood Festival returned to J.F. Gregory Park after a year off. Blackberry Smoke, a country rock band from Georgia was this year's entertainment headliner.
The Bryan County Board of Education voted unanimously to begin work on phase I of the new Richmond Hill High School for a “guaranteed maximum price,” of slightly more than $97.89 million. That’s believed to be the most ever spent on a single taxpayer-funded undertaking by a local government in county history. It is expected to be finished by the beginning of the 2024-2025 school year.
Officials held a ribbon cutting to celebrate the opening of the $4 million Great Ogeechee Parkway, a regional connector road linking Belfast Keller and Harris Trail near the new Belfast Keller interchange on I-95. The 2.2 mile parkway was funded by TSPLOST and is on land donated to the city by Rayonier, a donation Richmond Hill officials said is worth $450,000.
McAllister Elementary fifth grade math and science teacher Elisabeth Nelly is the Bryan County Schools 2022-2023 Teacher of the Year.
In separate announcements at both ends of the county, 99-year-old Sarah Robinson was named as the 2021 Richmond Hill Parade Grand Marshal and Jewel Cowart Owens selected as the grand marshal of the 2021 Christmas in Pembroke Festival and Parade. Both events would be held in early December.
The Nancy N. and J.C. Lewis Cancer & Research Pavilion at St. Joseph’s/Candler opened a new cancer treatment center in Pembroke The new Pembroke facility is located at 159 West Railroad Street, next to the St. Joseph’s/Candler Primary Care practice, which has been serving the community since 1994.
To commemorate the passing of U.S. Navy Airman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters of Richmond Hill, VFW Post 600 Savannah Riders held a memorial ride. Walters, 21, was one of three sailors killed Dec. 6, 2019 in a terrorist attack at Pensacola Naval Air Station.
The Bryan County Sheriff’s Office found the body of a woman authorities believe to be Karla Hillen, the 58-year-old family counselor from Richmond Hill who went missing Nov. 21. The body was found on Fort McAllister about 250 yards from where Hillen’s vehicle was found parked Nov. 24.