Every year has its big stories, and 2013 was no different in that regard in Bryan County, where Richmond Hill not only got a new industrial park, but also a new tenant for it — and took substantial steps towards getting another I-95 interchange.
And that was just one of the stories making headlines in 2013.
Here are some of the Bryan County News’ picks for the top local stories as we take a look back at the year we’re leaving behind. This is the first of a two-part series.
Belfast Commerce Centre
South Bryan Count’s Belfast Commerce Centre made news more than once in 2013.
Richmond Hill annexed the site in August, setting in motion a process that ended with Justice Department approval and included everything in between from updates of the city’s industrial zoning ordinances to the arrival in November of Israeli-based quartz countertop manufacturer Caesarstone Technologies, the park’s first tenent.
Along the way, a long-hoped-for interchange at I-95 and Daniel Siding Road, considered key to Bryan County’s economic fortunes, got closer to reality in 2013 after it was included on a list of priorities by DOT officials.
Officials have given various start dates for the project, but it appears all but a done deal. The $12 million project is on the Georgia DOT’s current Statewide Improvement Project List and work could get underway in 2017. When it’s completed, it will make Richmond Hill the only city in Georgia to have three interchanges on I-95, according to Mayor Harold Fowler.
It was a big year for the case involving a proposed landfill on 1,100 acres in the Black Creek community of North Bryan.
The Georgia Supreme Court decided in July not to review the claim from waste management company Atlantic Waste that the county’s landfill zoning ordinance is unconstitutional.
The decision essentially marked the end of a long legal battle between Atlantic Waste and the Bryan County Board of Commissioners.
In May, Atlantic Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge David Cavender also ruled on behalf of the county, saying Atlantic Waste hadn’t overcome the presumption the ordinance is valid and related to the public welfare. The Supreme Court in turn decided not to weigh in, effectively denying Atlantic Waste’s appeal.
The proposed 268-acre landfill on some 1,100 acres of Atlantic Waste-owned land was highly unpopular in North Bryan, where hundreds of yard signs urged commissioners to say no to the project in late 2011 when it became public knowledge.
In December 2011, commissioners denied a bid by the company to have the property rezoned and Atlantic Waste filed suit in January 2012. The Georgia Supreme Court didn’t have to hear the case, which was up for discretionary review, according to Supreme Court Public Information Officer Jane Hanson.
Bryan County saw its share of hard crimes in 2013 with a murder and murder-suicide case.
In June, 69-year-old William Haymans of Richmond Hill was found shot to death outside a home on the 1800 block of Daniel Siding Road. He had arrived to mow grass the morning of June 4 when he was shot at least twice with a shotgun.
Robert Burton, who lived next door to where Haymans was going to cut grass, was charged with murder in the case by the Bryan County Sheriff’s Department.
Later the same day, Walthourville police attempted to stop Burton for driving erratically, and he then allegedly led Liberty County deputies and Georgia State Patrol troopers on a chase Tuesday morning before surrendering in Long County.
Bryan County Sheriff Clyde Smith said at the time there was no known confrontation or hard feelings between Haymans and Burton, a veteran who reportedly was living in his truck and may have been suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.
Then in early December, an 8-year-old boy and his mother were found dead in their Richmond Hill home in the Mainstreet subdivision.
Michael Cyrus Green, 8, and his mother, 40-year-old Ivette Christine Greene, both died of apparent gunshot wounds in police determined was a murder suicide. RHPD said the woman left a note at the scene.
According to police, the bodies were discovered by the father, Mike Greene, who also lives at the home on 744 Bristol Way. Greene told investigators he left for work around 6 a.m. and got a text from his wife to return home. When he got back to the house he found the two bodies and called police.
Pembroke Fire Chief Jimmy Cook retired in April, but it wasn’t his choice, he said.
The 76-year-old had been with the department since 1971. He said he was forced out; officials said the change in leadership was part of a move toward a full time fire department.
Cook, who was apparently “retired” along with longtime firefighter Rex Smith, 81, wasn’t happy with the way the city handled the move.
Another longtime fire fighter would give up his job as well. Richmond Hill Fire Chief Vernon Rushing officially retired in November, but he had been put on paid administrative leave by the city in June for undisclosed reasons that apparently had to do with Rushing’s old-fashioned leadership style.
Rushing, who had been with the fire department since 1968, said as much at a September City Council meeting when he announced his decision to hang it up.
His immediate successor, longtime firefighter Andy Burriss, didn’t last long. Appointed interim fire chief in June, Burriss was fired Oct. 31 days after he was arrested in Tattnall County for driving under the influence of prescription drugs.
Signs of the times:
After a series of public hearings, Richmond Hill adopted a comprehensive new sign ordinance in May.
The 40-page effort to regulate signs was tweaked in July after concerns it was too strict on temporary signs such as those for yard sales.
In February, Richmond Hill mother Laura Lane Maia filed suit against the city, seeking $5 million for the 2011 suicide of her teenage daughter, Sydney Lane Sanders.
The suit alleges Sanders’ death was the result of a combination of negligence and tortious misconduct of the Richmond Hill mayor and City Council and Cpl. Doug Sahlberg with the Richmond Hill Police Department.
According to the lawsuit, Sahlberg responded to a suicide attempt by Sanders on or about Feb. 14, 2011, and that as part of the investigation, he or other officers obtained pictures of Sanders’ injuries.
The suit states that more than 10 days later, Sahlberg showed to his own daughter, a fellow student of Sanders, the pictures of Sanders’ injuries.
The suit claims Sahlberg’s daughter told other fellow students about the photographs, which led to Sanders’ suicide on April 5, 2011. According to the lawsuit, Sahlberg breached his duty to Sanders to safeguard and keep the photos confidential, and that “Salhberg knew or in the exercise of reasonable care should have known” that showing the photographs made it likely Sanders would further harm herself.
The suit further alleges that Salhberg’s behavior was intentional, reckless, extreme and outrageous.
The Savannah Morning News has since sought the court’s help in obtaining documents from the Richmond Hill Police Department regarding RHPD activity involving Sanders prior to her death.
According to the newspaper, Open Records Requests were made in October for incident and/or investigative reports, closed case files and other records to try and understand the RHPD’s actions.
The newspaper’s request was denied Nov. 1 by city attorney Ray Smith, who said the materials requested are exempt from the Opens Records Act or “being held pursuant to a written Notice of Intent,” according to an article in the Savannah Morning News.
But Savannah Morning News attorneys disagree, and a Motion Opposing the Protective Order and others were to be filed in state court in November.
Thanks to ongoing concerns about saltwater intrusion into the Floridan Aquifer, Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division put a stop in May to new groundwater withdrawals in the Coastal Empire.
At that time, officials in Bryan County, Richmond Hill and Pembroke said they have enough water to meet demands and accommodate some growth. But at a September workshop water was listed as one of the most important issues facing Bryan County.
That led to the creation of the county’s first Water Task Force, which consists of officials from each local government. Its aim is to find ways to increase the county’s water allocation and eventually create a county-wide Water and Sewer Authority.