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For more information about the Coastal Regional Commission, visit the website www.crc.ga.gov.
Bryan County’s population is expected to double from 30,000 people in 2010 to nearly 60,000 in 2030, according to projections by state analysts.
As the county manages that growth, it must work together with neighboring counties to solve problems and address matters such as economic development and disaster response, a regional planner said Tuesday on a visit to Richmond Hill.
“It’s very important to look at the region as a region,” said Lupita McClenning, the director of planning and government services for the Coastal Regional Commission. “We recognize that decisions have impacts that extend across jurisdictional boundaries.”
Speaking at the Richmond Hill/Bryan County Chamber of Commerce’s monthly Lunch and Learn program, McLenning gave an update on the CRC’s regional plan for coastal Georgia. Bryan is one of the 10 counties served by the regional planning and development agency.
The CRC adopted the coastal Georgia regional plan in 2010 and revised it in 2012. The commission is in the midst of another update and hopes to adopt the revised plan by December, according to McLenning.
“We’re the last Eastern Seaboard (area) in the country that’s not developed, so we have an opportunity to do it right,” she said.
The CRC will use input it collected over the past several months from people who live and work in the 10-county region. Approximately 5,000 people completed a survey about the issues they consider most important to coastal Georgia, McClenning said.
While that might not sound like many in a region of more than 600,000 people, the commission and other local officials were pleased with the response.
“I think 5,000 is great,” said Richmond Hill Planning and Zoning Director Scott Allison, who attended the Lunch and Learn program. “That’s probably giving them a fair amount of data to work with.”
Two of the top priorities identified in the survey were infrastructure and workforce development.
“We have jobs, but do we have qualified people to be able to take on those jobs?” McClenning asked.
Regarding infrastructure, McClenning lamented coastal Georgia voters rejecting the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax in 2012. The 1-percent tax would have raised money for road projects in the state’s “aging infrastructure system,” she said.
“We’re losing millions and millions of dollars,” McClenning said. “Most people going up and down I-95 who would’ve been paying it weren’t even going to be residents. They were going to be people who were gassing up between Savannah and St. Marys.”
Traffic in Bryan County is bound to increase in the coming years, particularly in the southern end. The county’s population, tabulated at 30,233 in the 2010 census, is now estimated at around 34,000 and projected to grow to 59,534 in 2030, according to the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget.
After the housing industry stagnated during the economic downturn, Allison said it is “booming” again as people move to the area.
“Especially with the development that you see in the south end, in the next probably three years, hundreds of homes will be built,” Allison said.
A key element of the CRC’s coastal plan is how the region would respond to a hurricane or other natural disaster. Though Georgia has not been directly hit by a storm more severe than a Category 2 hurricane (with winds from 96-110 mph) since 1898, the possibility exists every year.
“For a certain category of storm, the surge of the storm reaches a certain level at I-95 and I-16 that we’ll all be under water, and it won’t even be because we’re hit directly by the hurricane,” Allison said.
The commission wants to help the chambers of commerce in the region develop plans to assist businesses in the event of a natural disaster, according to McClenning. Chambers can establish a communication system with local businesses and a “continuity plan” to help them reopen their doors following the storm, she said.
“How many businesses would you lose if they couldn’t come back on the rolls?” she said. “And what does it look like when you’ve had a disaster and you come back? What’s ‘normal’ again for your businesses?”
McClenning said the CRC will keep the public apprised on the progress of its coastal plan revision through open houses, social media and the commission’s website. Richmond Hill/Bryan County Chamber Executive Director Brianne Yontz offered to help spread the word about any open houses the CRC schedules in the area.
“Each resident in the community has a voice in regional decision-making,” McClenning said. “It can’t be done without constituents, it can’t be done without the private sector. We welcome your comments.”