The Coastal Marshlands Protection Committee, part of the state Department of Natural Resources, tabled a decision on whether to grant a permit to the county’s proposed Waterways Township marina near Red Bird Creek following a public hearing Friday at the Wetlands Center inside J.F. Gregory Park.
Several Bryan County residents spoke in favor of the project, all stressing the point that more access to the water is needed. Currently there are two public boat ramps and two marinas in the county.
Others contested the project for potentially invading on an historic preserve and criticized Bryan County for joining forces with a private development. The loudest contention came from former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes, who attended the hearing.Barnes is the attorney for William Butler, part owner of the existing Kilkenny fisherman’s co-op. Butler has plans, which received approval from the county’s planning and zoning office, for a 3,000 square foot marina, a dry dock and condos. Butler and Barnes have previously threatened to sue the county for $10 million, alleging the county’s project will both devalue Butler’s neighboring Kilkenny marina project as well as illegally infringe on historic preserved marshlands.
"We’ve been waiting for years for Mr. Butler to do something over there," said Bryan County resident Angus Mcleod, who spoke in favor of the project.
Barnes said the county should not have the right to propose anything on the proposed tract of land because it includes land preserved by the state that cannot be developed without a ruling from the state General Assembly. Barnes also said approving this permit would have a "devastating" effect statewide by setting a precedent.
Ogeechee Riverkeeper Chandra Brown said she is concerned about a precedent being set on development involving government entities and private developers.
Committee Chairman Chris Clark said the law allows for development on historically preserved land for recreational use.
Coastal Estuary Protection Agency President Allen Davis spoke out in favor of the project. He said the proposed plans will actually improve the wetlands in that area because the permit entails rejuvenating and adding plantlife to the adjacent 5,000 square foot causeway - the proposed marina tract is on 1,700 square feet.
Greg Barfield, Bryan resident and a representative of the local fishing club Outshore Outlaws, said current demand entails "you may have to sit for 45 minutes to an hour to get in the water. We need this."
Bryan County Commission Chairman Jimmy Burnsed said the demand for additional public access increases as the population increases. He also said 50 percent of the boat storage at the proposed marina will be available to county residents who do not live in the Waterways Township development.
Burnsed said though the marina is to be located inside a gated community, the county will contractually have control of it and anyone can launch or land a boat at the proposed site. He said the project is fully being funded by Savannah Landholdings LLC, so no public funds will have to be spent.
Burnsed also said the marina won't send boat traffic through protected marshlands because it will have a lift to take boats out of freshwater, over the marsh and into Redbird Creek.
The issue will be heard, as well as an additional public hearing, at an upcoming Coastal Marshlands meeting. A date has not been set, but Brad Gane with the DNR estimates it to be around mid-September.
Waterways Township, formerly known as Genesis Point, encompasses 2,200 acres in south Bryan and will have nearly 3,000 residential units.
See video by clicking the picture of Barnes attached to this story.