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Water, economic development taking spotlight
Leaders in planning retreat on St. Simons
AP retreat
Denise Grabowski leads Liberty County officials in a discussion of issues facing the county. - photo by Photo by Alena Parker.
ST. SIMON’S ISLAND — “We’re getting a lot under economic development,” facilitator Denise Grabowski said as she added another sub-head to the growing list of issues facing Liberty County.
“We need a lot on economic development,” responded county Commissioner Donald Lovette.
“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time,” Grabowski said. “Well, if the elephant is too big how are you going to get passed the big toe?”
A storm flashed outside during Wednesday’s brainstorming session as officials zeroed in on what they could accomplish during the annual three-day, countywide workshop here.
More than 20 topics were whittled to 13, but County Administrator Joey Brown pointed out several were repeats of previous years.
“I think you got to put some expectations up there that are achievable,” Brown suggested. “Pick things that you can really see the end result and you’re not depending on a state agency to fund.”
Commission Chairman John McIver agreed.
“I hate to say this, but it all boils down to money,” he said.
“So let’s keep in mind when we select the top issues, knowing that each local government is going to have to step up to the plate.”
During dinner Wednesday, each workshop attendee ranked the four issues they would most like to see addressed during the conference.
Then they split in to four separate sessions Thursday morning to identify objectives, goals and strategies.

‘We’re a gold mine’
Even with Savannah’s billion-dollar tourism industry, state Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, called the county a gold mine.
He said the Liberty Trail should be drawing more people and their money.
“If we market this right, we have the people already in 40 minutes and on the interstate,” Williams said, noting the 60,000 cars passing through the county on I-95 every day.
“But we have to have something for them to see and the facilities in place when they get here.”
Not many hands went up when Grabowski asked how many had visited all the sites on the trail.
“People are not going to inconvenience themselves to enjoy themselves,” Williams said.
The group discussed why businesses are not coming, staying in the county and creating jobs.
Paul Hawkins of Flemington City Council, wanted to see shorter permit approval times.
“Taxes, fees and regulations, you handle those three and that’s a business-friendly environment,” Williams said.
“You need to add time,” said James Rogers of The Heritage Bank. “Because time is money.”
“Create a one-stop shop to get through the red tape,” suggested juvenile court Judge Linnie Darden.
Rose Kenner, an administrative assistant in Hinesville City Hall, suggested having volunteer work count as job training to help locals qualify for open positions.
There was also talk of addressing substance abuse, a common barrier for residents getting jobs.
Douglas Burgess, Allenhurst city councilman, suggested inviting a youth representative to next year’s session.

Water, water, everywhere
Mayors did not rotate through 90-minute sessions in the four conference rooms.
They, along with a few county leaders, hashed out plans for a 11-member county water council to deal with impending state changes to withdrawal from the Floridan aquifer.
Sonny Timmerman, executive director on the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission, led the group in deciding an advisory board, technical committee and general policy-making council.
It was agreed to have chief elected officials and representatives of Fort Stewart and Riceboro industrial giant Interstate Paper automatically on the council. They would appoint members to the advisory board.
“Anyone who pulls water from that aquifer needs to be on that board,” Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas said of the main council. “From that, anyone who has a stake needs to be on that advisory board.”
County Engineer Trent Long said there are 82 water systems in the county permitted with the state Environmental Protection Division.
The possibility that clout would become an invisible hand in picking representatives to the board concerned Fort Stewart’s chief master planner Anne de la Sierra.
“[The] Advisory is going to turn out to be people how have money in Liberty County and the people who run Liberty County,” she said. “…Make sure the general public is really represented.”
“Dissident as they may be, you want the public there,” Thomas said of the advisory board. “Because that’s ultimately what we’re going to have to answer to.”
Pick up Sunday’s Courier to see how officials wrapped up the session and what they had to say about transportation and human services.
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