Bulloch County and Statesboro city officials in a joint meeting Tuesday afternoon shared projections that the county’s population will approach or exceed 100,000 by 2030 and proposals or aspirations for more than $100 million worth of water, sewer and natural gas projects.
About $22.6 million of that would be for the county’s first entry into building a water and sewer system. Meanwhile, projections for expansion and updates to the city’s existing utility systems total more than $80 million, including $30 million for eventual construction of a new wastewater treatment plant.
Hyundai Motor Group’s construction of a huge electric vehicle and battery plant in northern Bryan County is the main catalyst for upward adjustment in Bulloch’s census projections, as well as for the county government’s interest in installing water and sewer systems in a currently rural area.
Bulloch’s population at the 2020 census was 81,099. A projection based on the previous growth rate forecast the county’s population as 93,541 by 2030, but that was before the Hyundai announcement.
“In the bigger picture, we’ll probably go from 81,000 to about 98,000 to 103,000 by 2030, and it really depends on how fast this Hyundai growth occurs,” County Manager Tom Couch said during his presentation Tuesday.
In the revised projections, the population of the southeastern portion of Bulloch County, nearest the Hyundai plant, is expected to grow by 4,000 to 6,400 people, with a midrange estimate of 5,184 new residents for that area alone. Meanwhile, the rest of the county is expected to gain 12,442 new residents, according to a projection in Couch’s slideshow.
So, with the “Hyundai impact” factored in, the midrange projection for the county overall is a gain of 17,626 residents through the decade, for 98,725 in 2030.
Since the Oct. 25 groundbreaking ceremony for Hyundai Motor Group’s “meta plant,” expected to employ 8,100 people at the Bryan County site, one Hyundai parts supplier, Ajin USA, revealed plans for a factory to employ 630 people at Bulloch County’s Bruce Yawn Commerce Park at the I-16 interchange on U.S. Highway 301. Meanwhile, construction is progressing there on Aspen Aerogel’s previously announced factory, expected to create more than 250 jobs.
Now the Southeast Bulloch area, south of Brooklet and Stilson to the county line, is expected to be “ground zero” for workforce housing, Couch said. With 5,000 new residents beyond “normal growth,” the area would need 2,000 new housing units, he said.
County planners here looked at growth patterns in multi-county regions around the Kia factory at West Point, Georgia, and the Hyundai plant at Montgomery, Alabama, in making the revised projections. Both of those vehicle factories are smaller than the one planned in Bryan County.
About 50 people, in addition to the elected officials, filled the multipurpose room at the Honey Bowen Building for Tuesday’s meeting. Chairman Roy Thompson convened it as a Bulloch County Board of Commissioners meeting, with five of the six district-elected commissioners also present. Statesboro Mayor Jonathan McCollar and City Council members Phil Boyum and Shari Barr were the city’s elected officials who attended.
The meeting was open to the public, but Thompson announced at the beginning that there would be no public comment time. When another joint city-county work session is held, probably on Feb. 28, public comments will be included, he said.
Since Aug. 16, the county commissioners have had a 180-day moratorium in effect blocking requests for zoning changes to higher-density residential classifications in the Southeast Bulloch area. Meanwhile, county staff, a consulting firm and a nine-member steering committee are looking at possible changes to the county’s future development map and zoning and development regulations.
Couch suggests establishing one or two new “suburban character areas” and providing county-operated water and sewer services for housing development in these.
In an informal agreement, Bulloch County is expected to drill four wells – two to be owned by Bulloch and two by Bryan County, although located in Bulloch – to supply water to the Hyundai plant. Some water from these wells could also go to the county’s proposed residential water system.
Couch and the county’s planners propose creating a water system to serve about 2,000 customers and a sewer system to serve about 1,500 customers. The water lines would extend about 20.6 miles, including a loop at U.S. 80 Highway and Georgia Route 119, and a line along Old Highway 46, which is now a county-maintained road.
For the sewer system, Couch proposes to have developers purchase capacity in a new treatment plant Bryan County is building, also to supply Hyundai. But the city of Statesboro could also help serve some of the homes with its existing sewer system and treatment plant, he suggested.
The county’s current cost estimate for building its water and sewer systems is $22.56 million. Funding sources Couch listed include $7.83 million from the county’s share in federal funding under the America Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, as well as almost $9.81 million in ARPA funding channeled through the state and $3.01 million in congressionally-directed funding.
About $1.9 million is still expected from a “host fee” Bryan County would pay for its wells, Couch confirmed Wednesday. That was omitted from his list for Tuesday’s presentation, where he instead included some possible sources of borrowed money “to be determined.”
Hyundai Motor Group’s target to start production at the plant by Jan. 1, 2025 makes “speed to market” important for building the needed infrastructure, Couch said. He displayed a timeline slating a preliminary engineering report for March 2023 with construction tentatively predicted to begin in September.
Statesboro City Manager Charles Penny said the city is also planning for growth and to make sure its water, sewer and natural gas systems are sufficient to serve new industries, as well as residents.
“We want to be prepared because we don’t want to lose an opportunity for our citizens to have more job opportunities in our community,” he said.
After years when few new homes were built within Statesboro, the city is also seeing a recent residential development boom, Penny reported. This is especially true for townhomes, the blocks of three or more attached homes for which the council enacted new standards last summer.
“In the last three months our City Council has approved over 550 townhomes in the city limits of Statesboro, and we still have another five or so projects that will be coming to the planning board and eventually to our City Council,” Penny said.
One 80-lot subdivision for detached homes is also beginning construction, he noted.
Chris Burke, water and wastewater director from the engineering firm Hussey Gay Bell, described the city’s expansion and update plans for those systems. Then city Public Utilities Director Steve Hotchkiss reported on natural gas system plans.
Proposed water system projects include installation of two new wells, one at the Bruce Yawn Commerce Park and one on Lakeview Road, for about $1 million each. Extensions of water mains out Highway 67 and in the Burkhalter Road-S&S Railroad Bed Road area are projected to cost $6.9 million and $1.5 million, respectively.
Extensions of sanitary sewer lines in those same areas and installation of a force main on U.S. 301 South are projected to cost, together, $24.86 million, and the wastewater treatment plant, $30 million.
Three phases of expansion of the natural gas system, which Hotchkiss described, are expected to cost at least $15.1 million.
These are long-term projects with no definite timeline announced.