Even with the rest of the country facing economic troubles, one of the hottest topics in Bryan County is growth.
From a growing population to new subdivisions and expanding businesses and schools, growth is, or will someday soon, impact most aspects of life in Bryan County.
That’s why some Bryan County residents seem to think growth is the most important local issue facing this area. Lifelong Richmond Hill resident Sheila Galbreath is one of them. While a growing community does bring numerous benefits, Galbreath has concerns over some of the negatives it can also produce.
"Growth has been the catalyst for most, if not all of the problems facing this county," she said. "I know that growth is inevitable but it makes you wonder where county and city governments were, or if they have yet to realize, that this county does not have sufficient roads, drainage and schools to support the ever increasing residential growth, much less the social and environmental problems that come with growth."
Laura Gray is a Richmond Hill resident, mother of a freshman at RHHS and a 7th grader at RHMS and is the founder of the Bryan County Parent’s Action Coalition. She said she’s not sure if growth is the number one issue, but said it’s definitely one for major concern.
"Growth is going to happen, regardless of how much some people may fight it," she said. "But we can try to make it as painless as possible by acknowledging it and planning ahead for it. Ignoring it and pretending we’re the same sleepy little Georgia town we were 20 years ago is not the answer."
County Administrator Phil Jones recently created a chart of some growth projections for the county, illustrating where Bryan County has come from and where it’s heading.
In 1980, census population estimates said there were roughly 10,175 residents in the county. By 2006 that number tripled to 30,442 – a 30 percent growth rate since 2000 – and Jones estimated it to triple again to by the year 2030.
Bryan County Commissioner Rick Gardner, who moved to the area in 1973, said he saw the Hinesville and Richmond Hill areas begin to develop during a time when growth was just starting.
"The 24th Infantry arrived around 1975, initially 18,000 troops, and that was a huge influx of unprecedented growth that I saw at that time, and a huge growth in housing. The military actively wooed city and county officials to continue expanding growth," he said. "Richmond Hill, being halfway between Ft. Stewart and Hunter Airfield, became the equidistance point."
Gray also pointed to the two military installments, along with the presence of a few major employers, as reasons why Bryan County has seemingly become a prime spot for rapid growth.
"We have a lot going for us here and people who are moving to this area recognize that. We should capitalize on that – not fight it – and make Bryan County a better place for all of us to live," she said.
Gardner pointed out the importance of elected officials coming together, on all levels, to work together for the greater good of the community.
"It seems so logical to have city councils and county commission and the board of education – all the elected bodies – to come together and work out their differences. There are differences and we know that. But there are aspects within those bodies that have the same types of issues – transportation is one reasonable example. Working together on a combined plan for these types of issues is how we can solve some of these problems," he said. "The gate’s open and it’s never going to close.
Galbreath said residential growth outrunning commercial growth is one big reason why people should be concerned.
"Growth in Bryan County equals a house. Like it or not, Bryan County – especially Richmond Hill – is a bedroom community of Savannah and ever more increasingly of Hinesville," she said. "Residential growth far outpaces commercial growth and, as it does, it is the homeowner who pays in the form of property taxes, traffic, school overcrowding and an ever increasing crime rate."
According to estimated and projected statistics in The Georgia County Guide from 2004, Bryan County’s population is expected to be at about 33,135 by 2010 and 38,746 by 2015. Georgia Statistics also shows the same numbers. According to Georgia Statistics, in 2006, there were roughly 67 people per square mile in Bryan County, out of a total of about 440 square miles. By 2010, there will be an estimated 75 people per square mile. Out of the state’s 159 counties, Bryan ranked 142 for population size in 1930. By 2000, that ranking had risen to 69.
Up next, the News takes a look at growth in Richmond Hill.
This is the first in a series of stories on growth and how it impacts Bryan County. The stories will run occasionally and cover a variety of topics. If you want to be a part of the series, please call Jessica Holthaus at 756-2268.