The Coastal Georgia Regional Development Center has announced new changes to how it will work. At a recent board of directors meeting in Richmond Hill, the newly named Regional Commission was discussed, along with the ways in which the Coastal Comprehensive Plan will impact the coastal – and even inland – counties of southeast Georgia, including Bryan.
"This isn’t going to be easy," said Vernon Martin, executive director of the CGRDC.
With the expected population of the coastal region looking to double sometime in the next 10 to 15 years, Martin said communities need to be aware of the repercussions, which he said could be severe in some respects.
"With that many people, you have to look at regional applications. Truck traffic is expected to be at least four times as much. Think about that and what that means…Consider the growth of the military, and the growth of seniors," he said. "Including the environmental protection of the coast itself, the historic preservation, and the other things that make Coastal Georgia what it is today – that has been lost in places like Bluffton, S.C. and places in Florida – try to keep that in mind as we talk about what has been done, and the responsibility that’s going to be placed on your shoulders," he said to the coastal region’s county officials, including local officials County Commissioner Jimmy Burnsed, County Administrator Phil Jones and Mayor Richard Davis.
Martin said key issues to consider include water and wastewater treatment, economic development and intrinsic resources, among others.
"The regional issues information will have guiding principals, strategies, and performance standards. And the two levels of performance standards are minimum and excellent. The Department of Community Affairs, with this plan, would give local governments three years to meet these minimum standards," said RDC Planning Director Tricia Reynolds.
As an example, Reynolds talked about the standards for infrastructure water and sewer.
"This is what a local government would be expected to do at the minimum, to discourage the use of individual lot septic systems for developments that exceed one dwelling per acre: To require connections to public or community sewer system when it’s available or nearby. That’s a sampling of the minimum," she said.
"To reach excellent, you would develop an inspection and maintenance program for private septic systems or keep an inventory of private well septic systems. When you’re looking at this, make a mental note of where your community might be in the minimum and what you’re willing to do to reach the excellent standards."
Reynolds said this also applies to developers, state agencies, non-governmental agencies, and any other organizations that play a role in the comprehensive plan. If Bryan County worked to reach excellent standards, it would be recognized as a regional steward and be eligible for special grants and state funding.
County Administrator Phil Jones said he has not yet received the DCA data for where the county stands on these standards, but said they have done a lot over the years and the county’s plan already address the septic issue in a new ordinance. Additionally, Jones said the county’s comp plan committee hopes to hold at least one validation meeting for local residents to find out where they are with the plan, and make sure it mirrors what the community wants to see for Bryan County’s future.
"The most dangerous thing is for us not to do this," Martin said of the Coastal Comp Plan. "You all aren’t going to be in office forever. We’ve got to have something consistent in place for regional development; for what’s in store for us down the road."
As far as changes in the RDC, the plan is to rename, consolidate and even eliminate some centers. The RDCs will likely soon be known as Regional Commissions. The plan’s new reconstructed boundary lines are currently waiting on approval from the Department of Community Affairs; instead of 15, there will only be 11 centers statewide. The board of directors leading the Regional Commissions will also change faces in the future, but the membership of this board is still in the works and under discussion.
Martin said the new Coastal Regional Commission would essentially have the same responsibilities as the CGRDC currently does.
"It will be pretty much all the same things we do now," he said, noting this includes regional planning for land use, the environment, transportation and historic preservation planning, among other duties.