Last year was a time of realized big projects in Bryan County. This year promises more of the same.
Among other accomplishments in 2015, a roundabout was constructed near the new McAllister Elementary School to give better flow to increased traffic there. Bryan County Commissioners Chairman Jimmy Burnsed and fellow Commissioner Noah Covington expect roads to be big issues again this year for the board.
The project to widen Highway 144 from Timber Trail to Belfast River Road — roughly a 5-mile stretch — is expected to continue, and engineering and other work for the proposed interchange at Interstate 95 and Belfast Keller Road was completed last year.
“It’s pretty much ready to go, except for federal funding,” Burnsed said.
North Bryan’s road issues include maintenance of the many dirt roads there, Covington said, adding that it takes money to keep up dirt roads.
“If you could afford to pave them, then you don’t have a motor grader out there every other week,” he said.
In 2015, the county worked with the city of Richmond Hill to bring in the Caesarstone plant, which brought hundreds of jobs to the area. The county just missed getting a proposed $500 million Volvo plant — and its thousands of jobs — that eventually went to Charleston, South Carolina, instead of the “megasite” in North Bryan. However, Covington said, just the fact that Bryan County had a good run at getting the plant was something of a victory.
“Even though we didn’t land that project, what we managed to do as commission and as a county — and how we were able to put ourselves back on the map, or maybe on the map, as a major player in this area — was big,” he said.
Of course, any developing area needs water, and that brings another challenge for the county this year.
The state’s Environmental Protection Division is turning back the county’s capacity by at least 10 percent, Burnsed said, which could impact the ability to attract new industry, especially to the industrial park. Also, housing starts in unincorporated parts of the county are expected to increase. Burnsed said there were 179 housing starts in 2014 and 252 last year. This year, Burnsed thinks the county will to get 325 to 350 housing starts. Several new subdivisions have been approved.
“I think you’re going to see some continued growth in the housing market in the unincorporated part of the county,” Burnsed said.
Also on the way is a new library, for which $1.5 million in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds have been set aside, Burnsed said, and the county is poised to get a $2 million grant from the Legislature toward the project. However, no location has been secured yet.
“A new library is desperately needed for the south end of the county,” he said.
The chairman also noted that tennis courts should be built this year at Henderson Park, with about eight to 10 courts expected depending on the bid. Ongoing projects include the citizens committee that is reviewing all ordinances, an 18-month project that began last September.
It’s also an election year, with some commission seats up for voting. Burnsed said he won’t be running again, adding that “I’ll be finishing my 12thyear, and that’s enough.”