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Area officials attend growth management meeting
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The lure of federal technical assistance - and grants of up to $1 million - brought more that 20 area officials to a growth management meeting in Hinesville.
The Office of Economic Adjustment, a field activity of the Secretary Defense, has primarily worked to assist communities affected by closure of military bases under the closure and realignment program, but has also participated in programs such as the Joint Land Use Study which collected a wide variety of data useful to the Army and to all the government jurisdictions near Fort Stewart.
David McKinnon of the OEA told the group that the Defense Department has "closed a lot of bases ... we're down to the core. The ones that we have ñ we need them." The three-person OEA team said their presence was evidence not only of DoD's desire to work with state and local governments, but what they called a "selfish interest" in bases like Fort Stewart.
OEA will participate in assessments of the area's needs related to growth of Fort Stewart, such as infrastructure, land use planning, transportation, education at all levels, housing and other factors. The agency will also help with developing possible capital resources to fund work on the identified needs. Possibilities include venture capitalists, philanthropic supporters, private utilities, mortgage bankers and homebuilders.
To partner with OEA in these activities, a local growth management organization is needed, and the officials have agreed on a proposed structure which will include four counties: Liberty, Long, Bryan and Tattnall.
A committee of members was chosen to get started: one member from each county and city in the four-county area. This amounted to 16, causing Michael Wilson, OEA project manager, to remark, "I recommend that you have an odd number of voting members."
Former Hinesville mayor Tom Ratcliffe, a member of the Georgia Military Affairs Committee, which advises the governor, was chosen by acclimation to be the 17th member. Ratcliffe also serves on the state Board of Economic Development.
The wide-ranging discussion included a remark that health care needed representation. Sonny Timmerman of the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission pointed out that Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas, "in a former life, or maybe in the current one is a member of the Liberty County Hospital Authority." Thomas said that, "It would be good to have hospital staff as well as members from the authority."
Anna Chafin, representing the Liberty County Development Authority, said other development authorities should be included in the growth management organization. Jason Rogers, an assistant superintendent of Liberty's schools, called for more representation from education: "We're pretty much a beast unto ourselves."
The GMO will hold its next meeting July 21.

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