Looking back on our ride through 2012 [The Brunswick News, Ga.]The Brunswick News, Ga.McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Dec. 31--The year ended on a sad note in Glynn County with the unexpected death of County Commissioner Tom Sublett.
Sublett, 52, was found Dec. 11 floating in the Frederica River near a boat dock adjacent to Gascoigne Bluff Park, on St. Simons Island, his car parked about 150 yards from where his body was found. A medical examiner determined the cause of death was drowning, but Sublett also suffered a bullet wound to the left side of his head.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is investigating the death as a homicide and continues to search the river for undisclosed evidence.
The road through 2012 in the Golden Isles was a mixture of difficulties for some and accomplishments for others.
A Brunswick city commissioner spent time in jail on criminal charges for which he has yet to be prosecuted. Jekyll Island unveiled the centerpiece of its revitalization plan to make the island state park competitive with other Southeast convention and vacation venues. The normally sedate Brunswick-Glynn County Public Library was roiled with acrimony. Tropical storms delivered only glancing blows. And Southeast Georgia Health System entered a new era of pediatrics care.
Here, then, are some of the straightaways and curves of 2012, left behind in the rearview mirror:
Perhaps the high note of the year for county government came Aug. 20, with the ceremonial groundbreaking for a new $24 million, 610-bed county detention center. The ceremony marked the end of a long, often heated debate over whether to expand the existing jail in downtown Brunswick or build a new one outside the city limits. Construction is expected to be complete at the 35-acre tract off U.S. 341, near the public works complex, in spring 2014.
Despite strong support from local and state officials, voters soundly rejected a 10-year, 1 percent Transportation Investment Act referendum in July. In the 10-county coastal region that included Glynn, the tax, also known as TSPLOST, would have generated an estimated $1.6 billion.
Local projects would have included resurfacing roads, sidewalks, bike paths, additional road construction, intersection improvements, roadside drainage, improved road signage and intercoastal waterway dredging.
Former State Rep. Roger Lane, R-St. Simons Island, resigned from the Legislature in May to accept an appointment as a Superior Court judge in the Brunswick Judicial Circuit. He was appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal to replace Judge Amanda Williams, who resigned amid allegations of violating her oath of office and is now the target of an investigation by the state attorney general's office. Lane will complete the remaining three years of William's term. Former state Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, was elected in November to take Lane's place in state House District 167, which includes north Glynn County and McIntosh and Long counties.
Wayne Bennett retired as Glynn County sheriff after 20 years and is being replaced by former Georgia State Post Brunswick commander Neal Jump, who was elected in November.
New faces also will join the county commission and school board in 2013.
The Southeast Georgia Health System saw another banner year with expansion, growth and education advances.
Facilities in both Glynn and Camden counties saw the completion of medical plazas that now house physicians and other medical services.
In August, the Center for Educational Development opened on U.S. 17 next to Glynn Immediate Care. The facility features state-of-the-art technology that trains medical students, nurses, first responders, emergency personnel and military personnel on simulation mannequins.
In October, the health system announced a partnership with Wolfson Children's Hospital of Jacksonville. The partnership will feature a children's clinic and rehabilitation center on the third floor of the Brunswick Medical Plaza, across from the Brunswick hospital on Hampton Avenue. The partnership will also bring pediatric care in 32 subspecialities to the area, making children's care more convenient in the region.
City Commissioner James Brooks was arrested and jailed in Camden County Jan. 26 and initially charged with felony bribery.
Brooks was arrested after the Georgia Bureau of Investigations alleged he received $300 from a man in Camden County. Brooks allegedly told the man he could clear the man's criminal record and get him a job at the Brunswick Police Department, according to the GBI. The charge was later dismissed in Camden County, but Brooks was almost immediately charged with felony gun possession in Glynn County. Brooks was also accused of a felony charge of abusing his office by influencing government officers. On Feb. 16, Brooks was released on bond and remains free, participating in city government.
Brooks was not the only city official to have a run in with the law in 2012. Municipal Court Judge Andrew Lakin was arrested in September, following an alleged aggressive driving incident in Brunswick.
Glynn County police opened a criminal investigation into the incident, in which a female driver claimed Lakin pursued her aggressively for miles and feared for her life. Lakin said he followed her because she was speeding in a school zone.
The city, facing another tight budget year, outsourced its sanitation department to Waste Management, for an annual savings of $500,000. The contract, which went into effect for residents Dec. 1, includes weekly curbside collection, weekly yard debris pick up and bimonthly recycling for residents.
The Brunswick Fire Department has a new fire chief, Randy Mobley, following former chief Ray House's retirement in July after 50 years of service. Mobley has 30 years in fire service, 22 of them as a captain.
The cornerstone of Jekyll Island's revitalization project became a reality in May for the Jekyll Island Authority when the 128,000-square-foot Jekyll Island Convention Center was opened. More than 60 meetings have been held in the facility, hosting about 70,000 attendees.
After overcoming some financial roadblocks, it was announced that the 200-room Westin hotel and Beach Village are expected to break ground in 2013. A 120-room Hyatt Place hotel is also anticipated to begin construction next year.
Jekyll Island moved its parking fee collection booth to the Downing Musgrove Causeway, adjacent to the welcome center. Authority employees no longer greet motorists destined for the island, ending a decades-old tradition. Visitors pay at a station that accepts cash or credit cards.
The governing board of the Jekyll Island Authority increased the parking fee by $1, raising it to $6 for cars. The increase did not change the cost of annual decals.
The Hamptons of New York moved to Jekyll Island for a short time in March when the USA Network television series "Royal Pains" filmed on the island. Crews were attracted to the Golden Isles for its mild weather, attractive coast, and took over Jekyll's historic wharf and Latitude 31 restaurant for filming. Filming also took place on St. Simons and Sea islands and in St. Marys.
Business and commerce
Georgia Ports Authority officials say a $14.7 million investment in the Port of Brunswick has paid off. Updates made to infrastructure at Colonel's Island and improvements supporting the export of bulk products at the East River Terminal led to significant expansion.
East River Terminal saw a tonnage increase of 14.1 percent over the previous year, led by biomass fuels. Colonel's Island imported 765,902 tons of roll on/roll off cargo, giving it the second highest spot for auto and machinery imports on the East Coast.
Businesses showed faith in the Golden Isles, bringing in operations and expanding current facilities. Precision parts maker Scoject, GSI Commerce, owned by online auction website eBay, and the restaurant combination of Red Lobster and Olive Garden opened new facilities, adding to the pool of available jobs.
King and Prince Seafood added 100 jobs in the fall, recruiting industrial sanitation workers, electronics technicians, machine operators, production workers and forklift operators. Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. followed suit by adding 25 jobs, a 20 percent expansion.
College of Coastal Georgia continued its vigorous growth with the opening of the newly renovated Academic Commons North building, a new courtyard at the Clara Wood Gould Library and the construction of the Correll Center for Teacher Education and Preparation. The college also expanded its service learning initiative and added new degree programs through its school of Business and Public Affairs.
Funding was secured to build a new signature entrance for the college, called Founders Gate. The gate, which broke ground in December, will be flanked by the James A. Bishop Arch, a pedestrian entrance to the campus named for the man who successfully advocated turning the junior college into a four-year school when serving on the University System of Georgia Board of Regents.
The Glynn County School System opened the new Risley Middle School in August on South Port Parkway in Southwest Glynn County. The $22 million school has the capacity to handle 800 students in sixth through eighth grades and features enough environmentally friendly features to qualify for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification.
Risley's opening forced the school system to adopt new school zones that sent some middle school students to new schools.
In February, citing budget shortfalls, the school board voted to close both the Risley Early College Academy and Performance Learning Center programs at the end of the past school year. Annual savings from the closures approached $3 million. The 400 students affected by the closures were sent to other schools.
State cuts and a decrease in local revenue from depressed property values sparked more than closures. The school board, avoiding a millage rate increase, also furloughed employees, laid off teachers and other employees, and reduced the number of days on the school calendar by adding time to each school day.
Two early spring tropical storms, Beryl and Alberto, were close calls for the Golden Isles but did not pass by without doing some damage. Most of the damage was seen on the beaches, where they stripped away sand. Much of the sand was deposited in the entrance to the shipping channel, which is impassible at low tide to some larger vessels calling on the port. Elected officials are still working with the Army Corps of Engineers to return the channel to its proper depth.
The board of the Brunswick-Glynn County Library voted to separate from the seven-county Three Rivers Library System following a rocky relationship between the two that began shortly after St. Simons Island Library joined the public library system. The two libraries in Glynn County will form a single-county library system beginning in July, the start of the next state fiscal budget year.
- Reporters Nikki Wiley, Meghan Pittman, Michael Hall and Gordon Jackson contributed
(c)2012 The Brunswick News (Brunswick, Ga.)
Visit The Brunswick News (Brunswick, Ga.) at www.thebrunswicknews.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services