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Multi-faceted Co-op plan to take time
Guest columnist

Regarding Bryan County’s recent purchase of the property on Fisherman’s Co-op Road, I know there have been some questions and criticisms floating around. In a way, I am glad. I want our residents to take an active role in their government, to inform themselves, to make an effort to understand what’s going on. When people raise questions, request information, or make points to the contrary, it tells me they have a vested interest in this community.

As an elected official, I like to engage with residents of the county, operate transparently and offer information whenever I can. So, when it comes to the Fisherman’s Coop, there are a few things I’d like the community know and remember about this property and the projects we have planned for it.

When we developed our Comprehensive Land Use Plan a couple years ago, we held forums and input sessions for residents to attend and provide feedback. Using their suggestions, we shaped our plan. One of the main topics that surfaced repeatedly at those sessions was water access and, specifically, suggestions to do something with the co-op. In fact, the desire to find a public use for the fishermen’s co-op was mentioned multiple times in our comprehensive plan. This has been a desire of a great number of citizens for a number of years.

Bryan County’s leaders agree – our waterfront location is wonderful and it’s an advantage we do not utilize nearly enough. Some people don’t even realize we are a coastal community because our access is so limited. The co-op is only minutes from the open ocean, Ossabaw and St. Catherine’s, and many other barrier islands. Coastal Georgia had a key role in our state’s history and it’s time we embrace that and enjoy the features that have shaped wars, pivotal events, traditions and lifestyles. However, we do believe it is imperative to determine the feasibility of a project before we embark on such a long endeavor, which is why Bryan County conducted extensive due diligence before proceeding with the purchase. This due diligence consisted of – but was not limited to – an environmental phase one and phase two study, a jurisdictional wetlands delineation study and determination from the federal government, a hydro- survey of the river’s floor in the area, and a detailed examination of what would actually fit on the property in terms of facilities.

The project planned for the co-op property has the potential to house a wide variety of components as the land is comprised of over 12 acres of uplands and around 10 acres of environmentally valuable wetlands that will now be preserved while never being threatened by residential or commercial development. Yes, it will have water access and a boat ramp, but that certainly isn’t all. Right now, we’re evaluating a number of features that would work nicely there, including entertainment areas, hiking paths, boardwalks, gathering places, picnicking areas, wildlife viewing areas and more. We want this space to be a prized spot that all Bryan County families can enjoy, so we’re envisioning many different recreational options to suit a variety of preferences and needs. In fact, most of the coop property is surrounded by land owned and conserved by the state. So with the proper partnership with the Department of Natural Resources, this project can potentially be expanded, thus opening more of beautiful coastline to our citizens.

You might think that all sounds great … but who’s paying for it? This project is not something that will come to fruition over the next two years. This is a “build-as-youcan- afford-it” type of endeavor. As the county receives grants, SPLOST revenue, unexpected funding, etc., we can add components to the Fisherman’s Co-op development project. We certainly do not believe a large, one-time payment is feasible or fair, so we expect to see this project grow over a 20- to 30-year span. We are actually applying for a $3.8 million grant next month that would more than cover the first phase of our plan. Additionally, the co-op project would be a good use of SPLOST revenue, which is currently bringing in more than ever before.

I’d also like the community to keep in mind that the Fisherman’s Co-op project is a revenue-producing opportunity. It will make money for this county by becoming a destination and bringing in people to spend money at our local businesses. At one point, the co-op played a large role in our local economy. A very large portion of Georgia’s shrimp was unloaded at the co-op, which used to contribute over $5 million per year to our local economy. Now, the property can be enjoyed by everyone with a multitude of facets developed over several years at a pace financially feasible for the county.

In the long run, purchasing the Fisherman’s Co-op property will prove to be a very beneficial move for this county. We are not just creating another recreational component with this project. We are preserving our ever-disappearing coastline from development, though a few people may be disappointed by that fact. With a lot of careful planning and manageable allocation of resources, we’re confident it will become a beautifully restored, historic landmark that all Bryan County residents will enjoy for generations.

Infinger is chairman of the Bryan County Commission.

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