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No double date?
Commissions goal of holding two meetings a month hits legal stump
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It doesn’t look like Bryan County Commission will be holding voting meetings in Richmond Hill anytime soon.

In the monthly commission meeting Tuesday, County Attorney Charles Brown told the commission the research he conducted into the possibility of holding two county meetings a month, one away from the county seat, was not favorable for what the commission wanted to do.

"With the best reading," he said, "there can only be one commission meeting place."

He said laws and policies currently prohibit the commission from the second meeting away from the county seat, and it would likely take a court action to attempt to change it, with no guarantee of success.

Despite the findings, member Toby Roberts, who was acting as chair in Jimmy Burnsed’s absence, said they shouldn’t give up.

"We’re not going to roll over and play dead on this one," he said. "I feel sure Pembroke will always be the county seat, no matter where the population center is. At the same time, in order to serve the citizens of the county," the additional meeting is important.

Roberts said he hoped someone would challenge the issue so it can be taken to the next level. He said it’s a matter of fairness to both ends of the county and would speed up the commission’s votes.

"Hopefully interest will be spurred and someone will step forward and challenge this in court," Roberts said.

Commissioner Rick Gardner said they’d all seen the need for the increase in meetings to serve the public that much better.

"Things move fast, they come up fast," he said. "I’ve been a long proponent of having more meetings and propose having more non voting meetings, more working meetings."

According to County Administrator Phil Jones, the next step would be to challenge the decision of only one commission meeting place.

The commission hasn’t given up, but the idea has reached a temporary stale-mate, according to the discussion.

In other business:

- Gus Bell of Hussey, Gay, Bell & DeYoung, gave a power point executive summary of the State Water Plan approved in Jan. 2008.

The plan for current and future water use in the state involves 11 regions, including Bryan County.

Bell said Governor Purdue appointed him to a task force to negotiate with South Carolina regarding future water rights on Savannah River and floridan aquifer.

According to Bell, the population of the area is expected to grow from 9 million to 18 million over the next 25 years, and the water plan was aimed at filling the water needs of that growth and addressing conservation.

Part of the plan, he said included addressing the need to develop reuse and conservation guidelines and refining current withdrawal limits from upper floridan aquifer. The plan would be coordinated with different regions, he said.

Georgia currently pulls approximately 6.5 billion gallons per day from surface waters and the aquifer, according to Bell, and Purdue is asking for a withdrawal reduction of 5 million gallons per day from the aquifer.

Georgia is currently in litigation with Alabama and Florida over water rights, and if there were litigation with South Carolina, it would put a moratorium on wells, meaning no more growth, Bell said.

"We just can’t let that happen," he said.

The Bryan County Commission will play a part in the water plan, by providing input on local water requirements and how it fits in to the overall picture.

- The board unanimously voted to amend Bryan County’s sign ordinance, restricting billboard signs from B2 -- or Business 2 -- zones.

According to Brown, "the initiative grew out of the construction of a billboard in a B2 area. Under the sign ordinance as it then existed, we could not reasonably deny the permit for that sign. The change is designed to address that particular problem."

The large billboard on Hwy. 144 near Keller spurred the change. Burnsed said previously that a billboard that size in that area was ugly and didn’t belong there.

Thomas Merritt, owner of the campground on the Ogeechee River at King’s Ferry suggested during public comment the ordinance would be better served by initiating a distance barrier between any residence or small business and the proposed sign.

Brown, however, told the board if change were distances within a residence or property, "it would plummet you into constant controversy, and it will be a contentious legal issue trying to define which point the distance was to be measured from."

He suggested defining by zoning ordinance as the better resolution.

The board voted unanimously to amend the sign ordinance that would restrict billboards from B2 areas, and allow them only in commercial and industrial zones.

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