Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:
The Telegraph of Macon on the state House:
After the Jan. 20 euphoria of the Presidential Inauguration fades and the Trump administration begins its work in earnest, we will begin to see where the real priorities fall — and Georgia wants to be prepared. Back in March, state House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge and his House colleagues agreed to form the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) study committee that would be charged with exploring ways to protect Georgia military installations when the next BRAC occurs. In 2005, Georgia experienced the BRAC shutdown of Fort McPherson, Fort Gillem, Naval Air Station-Atlanta and a Navy supply school in Athens.
Middle Georgia is well represented on the 15 member committee with Rep. Shaw Blackmon, R-Bonaire and Rep. Heath Clark, R-Warner Robins. The committee's draft report was approved by the state House Committee on Military Affairs.
Of course, our local concern revolves around Robins Air Force Base and many of the recommendations — school choice for military families, service cancelable college loans, a state tax break for military retirement income and investment in infrastructure around bases. In many respects, Middle Georgia has already moved in very substantial ways to support the military. The encroachment issues north of Robins have been addressed and with the new Georgia Veterans Education Career Transition Resource Center in Warner Robins there is no doubt of the state's support for military personnel and their families.
All of those measures are great, but the work of a more permanent committee is needed. While there will be no BRAC in 2017, a standing committee, already in the works, will enable the state to constantly update data and revise plans to make sure Georgia bases are in a position to stay open and accept new missions when a BRAC does come rolling through.
While Robins is our main concern, the state is rightly looking out for all the state's military installations that bring billions of dollars in economic impact and employ thousands of civilians. Whatever the state can do to support these bases, is the right thing to do.
The Savannah Morning News on Cumberland Island:
Georgia's Cumberland Island is a national treasure as well as a national seashore. It should be protected from potential degradation, not exposed to it.
Unfortunately, on Wednesday night, Camden County zoning officials approved a request for a zoning variance on an 87.5-acre tract of private land on Cumberland, which will allow the owners to subdivide the property into 10 lots. A county ordinance prohibits the subdivision of land in the county that is not fronted by a paved road, but the county allows for exceptions when the applicant is suffering an "unnecessary hardship."
The property in question on Cumberland is owned by Lumar LLC. It wants to divide its land into 10 lots. Cumberland Island has no paved roads at all, so Lumar is requesting an exemption to allow it to subdivide on its existing dirt road.
The family that owns Lumar acquired the land in 1998 for $3.5 million from Georgia Rockefeller Rose, and the company's attorney at the time said the family did not wish to be identified.
The application for the hardship variance was filed by Jacksonville, Fla., attorney Glenn Warren, who is a descendant of Coca-Cola founder Asa G. Candler. The Candler and Rockefeller families were among those who negotiated with the National Park Service to create the Cumberland Island National Seashore in 1972.
That landmark deal helped protect and preserve Cumberland's vibrant history, its pristine maritime forests, its undeveloped beachfronts and extensive salt marshes. It's one of the few places on the East Coast where people can see what this area looked like before bulldozers and real-estate developers moved in and built walls of condos overlooking the waterfront and resort golf courses. It is prized for its raw beauty and wildness. Cumberland remains a popular place for day-trippers, campers, tourists and naturalists to visit by ferry, as there is no bridge that connects the island to the mainland. Indeed, its isolation has insulated it from the pressures of modern day development.
But the request for a zoning variance proves that Cumberland is not immune from those economic pressures.
While portions of this barrier island are protected by federal designations, some parts remain privately owned, including the parcel in question. There are close to 1,000 acres of property on Cumberland in private hands that could potentially be subject to development.
It's unclear what Lumar's owners want to do with the property, although there is little doubt that undeveloped acreage on a gorgeous island could command a high price and be beneficial to the seller.
It's noteworthy that when this same piece of property sold in 1998 that the buyers said they planned to "keep, hold and preserve the property." Let's hope they are true to their word and that this effort to subdivide the parcel is driven by something fairly benign, like an estate matter between many heirs.
The Lumar property cuts a wide swath across one of the narrowest parts of the 17-mile-long national seashore. It's about a quarter mile north of the Sea Camp ferry dock and borders the Sea Camp campground. The site sits along the island's unpaved Main Road. Hence, its location is fairly conspicuous compared to other areas of Cumberland, which are far more remote. The fear is that island visitors who come to Cumberland to experience its solitude, history and beauty will instead be greeted by the noise of bulldozers and chain saws and the sights of 21st century development.
In fairness to Cumberland's private property owners, they should be allowed to use their land, according to the existing laws and development code. Anything less would be unfair, and a potentially illegal taking of their private property rights.
While the decision to grant the variance by Camden County's Planning Board was unfortunate, it's not the last word on the subject. The five-member Camden County Commission, chaired by St. Mary's businessman Jimmy Starline must sign off on the matter. Commissioners are expected to consider the variance at a meeting on Jan. 10, 2017.
We hope commissioners overturn the county planning board's decision. Cumberland Island is a valuable asset for Camden County, and elected officials should be in the business of protecting it as local treasure that benefits the county.
Island needs long-term plan
In the meantime, this controversy proves that there is much work left to be done on this special island. Federal officials with the Park Service, which oversees most of the island and struck deals that allowed residents and sometimes their children to use existing homes and private property until their deaths, should work with private property owners to come up with a clearer and more consistent long-term land use plan for Cumberland.
The desire to sub-divide land on this island is a wake-up call. While it may not signal the encroachment of modern development and could be something as innocuous as estate planning, this issue means Cumberland is vulnerable.
Public and private property owners should try to come up with a fair plan that preserves what's best about Cumberland, while still protecting the private property rights of families that were instrumental in this island's designation as a national seashore. If they strike such a deal, it would be a win-win for everyone.
The Brunswick News on replacing a fleet of submarines:
U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-1, says he had to fight to ensure funding for the replacement fleet of submarines remained in the National Defense Authorization Act that passed in the House of Representatives last week.
It is a good thing he did. As Carter noted in The News this week, the $97 billion legislation, particularly the new fleet of ballistic missile submarines, is "vital to the future of Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay."
"Keeping this provision in the bill was certainly worth the fight as it will keep Kings Bay viable for years to come," Carter said. "Kings Bay plays an important role in our nuclear deterrence, and we must ensure Kings Bay has the opportunity to remain the elite home base to the Atlantic ballistic submarine fleet."
Kings Bay also plays an important role in our economy in Coastal Georgia. As Carter said, it is imperative that it remain the home of the Atlantic's submarine fleet.
If the defense bill passes in the Senate, $1.9 billion will be allocated to build 12 new 560-feet long boats to replace the 14 Ohio-class subs currently stationed at Kings Bay and at a base in Bangor, Wash.
Kings Bay is responsible for a huge injection of well educated, skilled workers into the local workforce. According to the Camden Partnership, an organization that works to support Kings Bay and the Coast Guard, the base employs around 8,800 people between active duty personnel and federal and contracted employees. That translates into an estimated economic impact in the region of around $706 million. Roughly $600 million of that is in payroll alone.
That is significant, not only in Camden County, but in all of Coastal Georgia.
However the National Defense Authorization Act emerges after it goes through the Senate, it should include the money to build the 12 new subs. Building them is a win-win.
The first win is the protection the highly capable submarines provide the entire country.
The second win is the hugely important impact they have locally.
We hope our Senators from Georgia, David Perdue, who owns a home on Sea Island, and Johnny Isakson, share Carter's thoughts on the importance of seeing the new submarines through to fruition.