Bryan County is moving ahead with plans to turn the old Bryan County Fisherman’s Cooperative into a public recreation area, a real estate agent representing the property owner was told Tuesday night during a relatively short county commission meeting at Hendrix Park.
The county voted in March to buy the 22-acre property on Kilkenny Creek for $3.5 million, with plans to eventually turn it into a recreational area complete with boat ramps, a community dock, and more. But in June, County Commissioner Brad Brookshire questioned the cost of a finished project, which in one estimation would be around $12 million when complete.
During Tuesday night’s public comment session, Benji Miles, representing the sellers, asked where the county was with regard to the project, since initial public excitement had apparently led to questions of its feasibility.
“It went from everybody being excited and everybody wants it to questions and concerns,” he said, adding that while he knew the county was moving ahead with studies, he wanted to know if county commissioners could tell him what would lead them decide to abandon the project.
Bryan County Administrator Ben Taylor told Miles the county is in the process of having various surveys done at the site where local shrimpers unloaded their catches in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Those include a hydrographic survey, an environmental study and a U.S. Corps of Engineer survey delineating freshwater wetlands.
The condition of buildings and the cost of road repairs are also being examined, Taylor said.
The county is also seeking grant funding from state agencies such as the Department of Natural Resources to help pay for the project, Taylor said.
In June, commissioners Gene Wallace, Noah Covington and Brookshire himself voiced support for the project, though there were questions over how fast to proceed and how much to spend. Taylor said the county initially asked the engineering firm Thomas & Hutton to do a comprehensive look at the site and give a cost for “a Cadillac” version of a facility built out in phases over a long period, and that led to the $12 million price tag.
The county is buying the property from Atlanta- based Keller LLC out of general fund money, County Commission Chairman Carter Infinger said in March, but could ask voters to approve funding as a Special Local Option Sales Tax project when the next SPLOST is up for a vote in 2023.
The cooperative was at one point in the 2000s destined to become a marina and condos after it was sold in 2004, but that never happened. The site, which has fallen into disrepair, was initially purchased in 1975 for $30,000 and sold in 2004 for $3 million, according to Bryan County tax records.
Bryan County Commissioners got a break from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority, or GEFA, which has offered to stop collecting both interest and payments p loans for six months due to COVID-19. The county received a $2.9 million loan in 2017 at 2.19 percent and replayable over 20 years to expand water and sewer projects in at the Interstate Centre in Black Creek, among other projects.
Commissioners approved an amendment Tuesday night from GEFA, which will allow the county to skip interest payments from June 1 to Nov. 30 on its loan as well a payment free period from July 1 to Dec. 31.
“Both these changes will help the county’s cash flow during this 6-month period,” a recommendation to commissioners from Taylor said.
Also Tuesday, commissioners voted to refinance a 2019 lease purchase agreement with Banc of America Public Capitol Corp for $12.3 million to buy energy saving equipment. Under the refinancing, which will reduce the interest rate from 3.09 percent to 2.49 percent, the county will save $426,436 in interest over a 15-year period, documents say.
Commissioners approved mutual aid agreements between Bryan County Emergency Services and two neighboring agencies. The first to be approved was an agreement between BCES and Fort Stewart Hunter Air Airfield, the second a similar agreement with Chatham County EMS.
Such agreements are routine, but formalize how and when aid is given to other departments.
Commissioners also approved renewing its annual contract with the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Under the annual contract, Bryan County and the Extension split the salaries, benefits and insurance costs of the four people working in the local Extension office. Bryan County’s share is $60,991 for the four employees who make up the local extension.
In other business: · The county approved providing Atlantic Judicial Circuit $10,000 in funding for a Bryan County Drug Court and Bryan County Veterans Court.