The Coastal Georgia Water Council and Bryan County officials have taken issue with census figures from the University of Georgia, saying they are too low.
As a result, Bryan County Commission Chairman Jimmy Burnsed penned a letter to EPD Director Dr. Carol Couch to contend the figures.
The governor’s office recently appointed 25 Coastal Georgia residents to form the Coastal Georgia Water Council in order to help the state with water planning on the coast.
Council members are concerned that the lower the census estimates, the less water will be available for the coast.
"We have reviewed elements of the study (in regard to the disputed population numbers) and find them disturbing to say the least," Burnsed said in his letter.
Bryan County Commissioner Rick Gardner and Richmond Hill City Manager Mike Melton are both members of the Coastal Georgia Water Council, which met last week at the Wetlands Center in Richmond Hill. Gardner said census figures are important to the group because "how can you plan for the future when the population numbers we are being handed are incorrect?"
Gardner said the UGA polling was done to help the state get preliminary figures for the next year’s US Census survey. He said census figures do not take into account transient residents, such as military.
"Bryan County has grown in excess of 50 percent every ten year period since 1970 and the projected growth from 2000 to 2010 is likely to indicate the same growth rate," Burnsed’s letter reads. "However, the University of Georgia study indicates (Bryan County) growth from 2010 to 2050 will be 16,372 persons or a 49.87 percent rate over a 40 year period."
Burnsed said the county estimates a much higher 44 percent growth rate over the next ten years to bring the population to 48,428 by 2020 or 66,894 by 2030. The current population of Bryan County is approximately 34,000 people.
The UGA study shows Coastal Georgia counties (Bryan, Bulloch, Camden, Chatham, Effingham, Glynn, Liberty, Long, McIntosh and Screven) to increase by 178,978 persons, or 32 percent, by 2015. Burnsed said the study "is not reflective of what is and will occur in the coastal region of Georgia. EPD/Water Council should not consider the data as representative of Coastal Georgia and the data contained therein should not be used for planning purposes."
Gardner said the study does not take into account planned development projects within the county that have already been approved by planning and zoning. This includes the 2,946-home Waterways Community project, a 15,000-home projects in the works by TerraPoint off Belfast Siding and also off Oak Level Road, and the TerraPoint’s industrial park on Belfast Siding Road.
"The data presented does not include growth that is starting to occur in the north end of our county, where we have approximately 500 lots approved and waiting for growth." Burnsed said in his letter. "We are also working with two new developers that will likely add another 400-plus lot for development."
Burnsed and Gardner are also asking why the Georgia Tech’s recent study is not being used. The Tech study, initiated by the Coastal Georgia Regional Development Center in 2006, shows the population to increase more rapidly – to 38,815 by 2015. Also, the EPD has previously said they would use the Tech study for water planning.
Gardner said Georgia Tech’s study is also too low, but "at least they’re in the ballpark. We can make ourselves comfortable with those figures if you factor in the lagging economy. The UGA figures are way out of line."
Gardener said he is hopeful the state will respond to Burnsed’s letter and the contention from the Water Council by allowing the group to use the Georgia Tech numbers.