Thursday, August 31, 2017

Historic Savannah Foundation contributes to City Hall preservation

Posted By on Thu, Aug 31, 2017 at 6:51 PM

At today's City Council meeting, Savannah’s Mayor and Aldermen recognized the Historic Savannah Foundation for making a large donation to assist in planning for the restoration of the interior of City Hall.

The Historic Savannah Foundation is providing matching funds in the amount of $2,500.00 towards a $10,000 grant the City recently received from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

“Historic Savannah Foundation is proud to partner with the City of Savannah in preserving City Hall. Whether you live in Savannah or San Francisco, sense of place is important and restoring one of the most recognizable and historically significant buildings in Savannah ensures the use of this landmark for future generations of citizens and visitors,” said Historic Savannah Foundation President and CEO Daniel Carey.

"While the City has undertaken periodic restoration/preservation projects on the exterior, the interior has not received any major restoration or preservation work since its opening in 1906," a City spokesperson says.

"In order to ensure continued use of the building for future generations of citizens and prolong the life of significant historical features, an interior conditions assessment of the major public spaces is currently underway which will result in a restoration plan and maintenance schedule."

The total cost for the project is $33,600. The City of Savannah will fund the remaining $21,100 in costs which are not covered by the grant and donation. Lominack Kolman and Smith started work in mid-July and the preservation assessment and maintenance plan should be completed in January 2018.

Southern Company set to press forward with controversial, overbudget Plant Vogtle nuclear plant expansion

Posted By on Thu, Aug 31, 2017 at 10:50 AM

Southern Company and its utility partners are seemingly moving forward with the over-budget and delayed nuclear expansion project at Plant Vogtle in Burke County Georgia along the Savannah River.

In South Carolina, SCE&G and Santee Cooper have recently opted to cancel their interest in the only other nuclear reactor construction project in the country, the V.C. Summer plant, due to similar concerns.

"Uncertainly looms in the wake of the Westinghouse bankruptcy, the designer and builder of the AP1000 reactor design, and parent company Toshiba’s continued financial uncertainly given the multi-billion dollar losses because of the Vogtle and V.C. Summer reactor projects. The total project cost is now estimated at more than $25 billion," says the nonprofit group Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE).

“Southern Company’s decision is an anomaly, a very expensive one. Even as every other utility realized the extreme risks to their shareholders and customers and correctly decided to stop the financial bleeding, Southern stubbornly presses forward," says Dr. Stephen A. Smith, Executive Director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

"It’s imperative that Georgia regulators at the Public Service Commission conduct an open and transparent process and protect ratepayers from these unfair financial burdens — ensuring that all additional risks be borne by the Company and its shareholders. Further, the Vogtle project has already benefitted from many billions of dollars in federal taxpayer funded incentives – not one more dollar should be doled out to this project at taxpayers’ expense."

This week, Southern Company filed more details with the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) and filed the 17th semi-annual Vogtle Construction Monitoring report with the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC).

"The monitoring report mentions an additional $4.5 billion capital cost estimate to complete Georgia Power’s portion of the project as 45.7% owner and a total capital cost estimate of $9.45 billion to complete the project, which represents more than a doubling of the original capital cost estimate," says SACE.

"The report estimates increased financing costs to $3.4 billion bringing Georgia Power’s share of the project for capital and financing costs to $12.2 billion, a doubling of the original $6.1 billion. The completion schedule is also significantly delayed, again. Originally the two reactor units should have both been online in April 2016 and April 2017 and new Company estimates are November 2021 for unit 3 and November 2022 for unit 4," SACE says.

The report includes cost estimates for cancelling the project: “between $730 million and $760 million, of which Georgia Power’s share is estimated to be approximately $330 million to $350 million exclusive of estimated credits from the salvage and sale of assets.”

Savannah City Council set to adopt 'Savannah Forward' strategic plan

Posted By on Thu, Aug 31, 2017 at 10:29 AM

At today's regular meeting, Savannah City Council is expected to vote to adopt Savannah Forward, the City’s strategic plan.

The top five priorities set by Council are Public Safety, Infrastructure, Neighborhood Revitalization, Economic Strength and Poverty Reduction, and Good Government, according to a spokesperson.

"Earlier this year City Council contracted with consultant Managing Results, LLC, to work with the City to develop a seven-year strategic plan. The process included seven community meetings; five focus groups; 11 individual meetings with City Council, the City Manager, employees, and others; and a two-day City Council retreat," the City spokesperson says.

High-level goals were established by Council for each priority. "The City Manager then created a new organizational structure and budget process, aligning operations with resources and funding. Next step is finalizing action plans and developing detailed business plans for each of Savannah’s operations, establishing a clear road map to meet Council’s goals and make Savannah the best mid-sized city in America," the City says.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Telfair Museums win award for 'Generation' exhibition

Posted By on Mon, Aug 21, 2017 at 11:53 AM

Telfair Museums on Monday announced that their exhibition "Generation: Sawsan AlSaraf, Tamara Abdul Hadi, Sundus Abdul Hadi" was awarded the Silver Award for Exhibitions under $25,000 in the Southeastern Museums Conference (SEMC) 2017 Exhibition.

"Generation," which is on display until September 10, explores the complexity of Arab communities that are often simultaneously subjected to stereotyping and underrepresentation. The artists represent two generations of Iraqi-Canadian women and identify as diasporic artists.
"'Generation' is an important and timely exhibition in that it is the first presentation of these three artists in the United States. It offers a needed conversation, and public face, to voices of the Arab diaspora, in a time when empathy and understanding are crucial," said Rachel Reese, Telfair's Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. "This is how narratives start changing and shifting, by supporting these conversations and opening them up to the public."

The competition is sponsored by the SEMC Curator’s Committee and recognizes well-designed exhibitions that have educational value and treat objects with care and respect. Telfair Museums previously won the Gold award for its Mickalene Thomas at Giverny show in 2016.

Friday, August 18, 2017

GBI to investigate local gun buyback program

Posted By on Fri, Aug 18, 2017 at 2:17 PM

The Chatham County Manager, in co-operation with the Chatham County District Attorney’s Office, "has asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to investigate the circumstances surrounding the surrender of firearms collected by Savannah City Youth, Inc.’s, gun buyback program," a county spokesperson says.

The firearms were surrendered to Chatham-Savannah Counter Narcotics Team to be secured while the matter is being investigated, the county reports.

The local program received some criticism in that it offered cash for guns, unlike many such programs, which offer gift cards instead to eliminate the possibility of people using cash to go buy newer guns.

Such programs are also frequently criticized for potentially keeping law enforcement from securing guns as evidence which have been used in crimes.

SCMPD chief Joseph Lumpkin and City of Savannah officials appeared with Alderman Van Johnson and Savannah City Youth's Beverlee Trotter at a November press conference about the gun buyback program, though a press release the following day clarified that the department is not affiliated with the privately-funded program.

Both police-supervised and private gun buyback programs have generated controversy over whether such measures are effective. Studies show that the majority of the guns collected are non-functioning or not the type used in violent crimes, and while gun buyback programs are widely supported, they have not proved to reduce crime in violent communities.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

City Council to move forward on plan to 'expand the story' of Savannah's Confederate monument and to attempt to rename Talmadge Bridge

Posted By on Thu, Aug 17, 2017 at 4:36 PM

At today's City Council meeting, Mayor Eddie DeLoach made a statement — which he said had full support of the rest of Council — addressing the recent events in Charlottesville, Va., and the ensuing controversy about Confederate monuments.

"We must all denounce these forms of domestic terrorism... we must not just be on the right side of history, we must write the right version of history," Mayor DeLoach said.

City Council tasked City Manager Rob Hernandez with an effort to "expand the story" surrounding the Confederate monument in Forsyth Park, to make the monument more inclusive in nature. It is currently dedicated to Confederate war dead.

City Attorney Brooks Stillwell reminded Council that a state law passed in 2016 prohibits cities from removing any monument to military service in any war the U.S. has fought.

"State government has preempted the City's authority" just as they preempt cities in Georgia "from banning assault rifles," Stillwell said.

However, state law does allow for reinterpretation of monuments, as well as moving them to another visible location.

Echoing a resolution from previous years, City Council will vote on a resolution to Governor Deal requesting that the name of the Eugene Talmadge Bridge, named for a segregationist governor, be changed.

To applause, Alderman John Hall said "The name Eugene Talmadge is not what this city represents."

City Attorney Stillwell said the state has final say on the name of the bridge, and that "the City has no say."

Alderman Van Johnson said, "If the City had the power to change the name we would have done it years ago."

Alderman Julian Miller urged that a vote not be taken at today's meeting, but that "The public has a right to be heard on these issues before we go forward with it...we are constantly being asked to change the names of things."

A decision was made to hold a public forum in September, to be held outside of the regular Council meeting, to discuss the monument issue and the bridge renaming resolution and allow full public input.

Mayor DeLoach said, "I already know how I feel" and how City Council feels about the issues. He said "who shows up the most isn't going to determine" what Council thinks and decides on the monument and bridge issue.

Developer withdraws controversial apartment building bid prior to re-vote

Posted By on Thu, Aug 17, 2017 at 12:17 PM

The scheduled re-vote on a controversial apartment building project near Forsyth Park will not take place at today's City Council meeting.

Delray Ventures, the developer behind the project, informed City Council that it wished that the two agenda items involving the project be removed from the City Council agenda.

"We have listened carefully to all comments and recognize that our petitions are not supported by a majority of City Council," a letter from Delray to the Mayor and Aldermen reads.

"We do not want a vote by City Council to curtail future zoning or development efforts for the current owner," the letter goes on to read.

Andree Patterson, the president of the Victorian Neighborhood Association who led the fight against the project by Delray Ventures, says she was contacted by the developer's attorney and told the bid was off.

Patterson said in a Wednesday night Facebook post that the attorney, Harold Yellin, "contacted me twice today to inform us that Delray has withdrawn its request for rezoning and for permitting of their construction project. At 7:30 tonight, he informed me that he was going to hand-deliver Delray's letter to the courthouse tomorrow morning, so as to remove those agenda items from tomorrow's meeting."

The re-vote effort was spearheaded by Alderman Tony Thomas, who was part of the five-vote majority initially approving the rezoning classification at the prior City Council meeting.

"After careful reflection on the proceedings and additional information that I have learned regarding the development during the hearing and since, I will be calling for a Vote of Reconsideration at the next city council meeting," Thomas said soon afterward.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

City boards, commissions open for applications

Posted By on Wed, Aug 16, 2017 at 8:44 PM

The Mayor and Aldermen of the City of Savannah will be accepting applications beginning Thursday, August 17, 2017 through Friday, September 15, 2017 for appointments and reappointments to these Boards, Commissions and Authorities:

CIVIL SERVICE BOARD. Three (3) members appointed to overlapping six-year (6) terms by City Council. Basic function is to hear appeals from disciplinary action against an employee when it is alleged the action is taken for political or religious reasons. The labor Seat should be filled by someone who is not a management-level employee: this person does not have to be a member of a labor union. Chatham County resident for at least five (5) years. No term limits. One (1) term available for appointment

DOWNTOWN SAVANNAH AUTHORITY. Five (5) members, including Mayor or member of City Council serving his/her term of office and four (4) City residents appointed to 4- year terms by City Council, as well as a member of Chatham County Delegation to the GA Legislature. Encourages construction of new parking facilities and provides financial incentives for private projects which have economic benefits to the downtown area. One (1) term available for appointment.

ETHICS BOARD. The board will hear and conduct review of complaints filed against elected officials of the City; if such complaints involve impropriety of elected officials and violation of the provisions of the Ethics Ordinance, and if such violations affected the elected official’s ability to carry out his/her official duties. Members shall be known for their personal integrity. The Mayor shall appoint one (1) member; the Aldermen shall appoint one (1) member; together the Mayor and Aldermen shall appoint one (1) member who shall be an attorney in good standing with the State bar. Members must reside in the City and not be an elected official or City employee.

HISTORIC DISTRICT BOARD OF REVIEW. Eleven (11) members appointed to three (3) year terms by Savannah City Council including one small business owner with an architectural background. Makes decisions on new construction and any changes to historic structures in the City’s Historic District. One (1) term available for appointment.

PARK AND TREE COMMISSION. Nine (9) members appointed to overlapping three (3) year terms by City Council. Must be a City resident. Term Limit: No member may serve more than three, consecutive three year terms. Charged with directing the activities related to the planting and caring for parks, squares, grass plats, trees, and flowers of the city. Four (4) terms available for appointment.

PENSION BOARD: Eight (8) members, including one member of City Council and two residents appointed to ­overlapping four-year (4) terms by City Council; also serving are the City Manager, the City’s Chief Financial Officer and three employee-elected representatives. Administers the City of Savannah Employee Retirements Plan. One (1) unexpired term available for appointment.

SAVANNAH RECREATION COMMISSION. Twelve (12) members are appointed to three (3) year terms by City Council. Eligible for reappointment. Serves as an advisory body on recreational programs and facilities. Two (2) terms available for appointment

SAVANNAH ZONING BOARD OF APPEALS. Seven (7) members appointed to overlapping three-year (3) terms by City Council. No term limits; City resident. Members cannot hold public office, except for one appointee who must be a current member of the Metropolitan Planning Commission. Board hears and rules on appeals from decisions of the zoning administrator and hears and rules on requests for permits which require the board’s approval. One (1) term available for appointment.

TRAFFIC CALMING COMMITTEE: The Traffic Calming Committee shall consist of nine (9) members all of whom shall be approved by vote of the Mayor and Aldermen. The term of office for each member of the Traffic Calming Committee shall be three (3) years. A member of the Traffic Calming Committee shall not serve for more than two consecutive, three year terms. The members of the Traffic Calming Committee shall be a demographically broad representation of the community in the Savannah Metropolitan Area with an interest in Traffic Calming. Committee members must live in the City limits of Savannah. Appointments can come from any district. One (1) term available for appointment for: DISTRICT 6 representative.

Applications can be found on the City’s website: Applications will be accepted beginning Thursday, August 17, 2017.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

School canceled due to eclipse, with discord over timing of announcement

Posted By on Tue, Aug 8, 2017 at 10:31 AM

Monday evening, Savannah-Chatham School Board Superintendent Jolene Byrne posted on her Facebook page that school will be canceled for safety reasons Aug. 21 due to the total eclipse that afternoon during a heavy transportation period.

"The solar eclipse presents a unique safety hazard during what it typically a very busy time on the road for parents and bus drivers," Byrne wrote.

The cancellation for students is apparently still the case. But because new School Superintendent Ann Levett reportedly considered Byrne's announcement to be premature, Byrne deactivated her entire Facebook page in response.

"She took her page down to avoid any conflicts," says a source close to the situation.

An email from Levett to staff obtained by Connect Savannah Tuesday morning confirmed that school will be canceled Aug. 21.

It says in part, "The information is correct. Aug. 21 will be a NO SCHOOL day for students and a work day for staff... More details will be provided to everyone — employees, families, and the public — this afternoon."

At about 11:45 a.m., Connect received an email from the school system making the official announcement, chalking the cancellation up to "inclement weather."

In the email, Superintendent Levett said, “Student safety remains our guiding factor as we consider all conditions surrounding this event. After reviewing various options and carefully weighing the pros and cons of each, it has been determined that school closure for students is the most responsible option. We also recognize the historical significance of this event for our country. The days leading up to the eclipse will present wonderful learning activities for our students which will also feature safety information regarding the dangers of looking at the sun during this occurrence.”

In her Facebook post, Byrne also said, "We also know that many parents want to experience this remarkable event with their children, and school attendance on that day is projected to be low."

Byrne went on to write, "A half-day was considered, but the logistics of getting children home in time proved to be impractical."

A make-up day will not be required, according to the school district. All staff will be required to report to work as normal.

Husk contractor fined for killing tree over 100 years old

Posted By on Tue, Aug 8, 2017 at 9:25 AM

The City of Savannah is seeking to recover more than $37,000 in fines and restitution from a local contractor for fatally damaging a City-owned Live Oak tree, a City spokesperson announces.

"On Thursday, August 3 the City sent a Notice of Violation to Dustcom Limited, Inc. On July 18 Dustcom was tying in a water line for a new restaurant at 12 W. Oglethorpe Ave.," the spokesperson says.

"Construction crews dug a hole in the median without notifying the City and violated the project’s right-of-way permit. The hole was dug too close to the tree and the excavation severely damaged the tree’s root system, including the structural root."

The City issued a stop-work order and assessed the condition of the tree. The City says it also requested a third-party assessment from a private arborist.

"City arborists and the private arborist all concluded that the root system was damaged to such an extent that the tree could not be saved, and recommended removing the tree for public safety reasons," the City says. :The tree is more than 100 years old and stands 47 foot-tall."

The City of Savannah intends to pursue collection of its losses, in accordance with the Savannah Landscape and Tree Protection Ordinance, as follows:

Fine for violation of the terms of conditional right-of-way permit – $500.00
Cost for arboricultural consultant—$1,700
Cost to remove tree – $6,800
Appraised value of 42” Like Oak tree –$27,671.78
Cost to replace tree with 3” caliper Live Oak –$500.00

The damaged tree is reportedly scheduled for removal in the next 7-10 business days.

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