A proposal for Phase III of the S&S Greenway that would extend the existing paved walking and cycling trail from its current end east of Statesboro to Brooklet and onward along Brooklet’s West Lane Street drew opposition from residents in two input meetings this week.
After the county staff sent notices inviting about 120 property owners along the trail, about 50 turned out for a meeting Wednesday evening at Brooklet City Hall, Assistant County Manager Cindy Steinmann estimated. A Statesboro Herald reporter attended the second meeting, advertised for the general public, Thursday evening at Brooklet Elementary School. Although 72 people signed in, the crowd probably amounted to 100 or more.
The project is only in the design phase. Construction, estimated to cost almost $5.3 million, is slated for 2024. Meanwhile, the Brooklet residents’ concerns could become moot – or heard and answered – from the county government’s perspective. After attending both meetings and observing that things “got a little heated,” Board of Commissioners Chairman Roy Thompson said the county will halt the trail construction at the Brooklet city limits, pending a decision from Brooklet’s mayor and council on whether to take it any further.
“I said this is the decision of myself and our county commissioners and the county manager,” Thompson said Friday. “We are going to do our original plan, and that is to take it from Five Points to the city limits and put a trailhead at that point where it ends.”
This had not been voted on at a meeting, but he said he had talked to the other commissioners.
Thompson recalled that the proposal to extend the trail into Brooklet began with two meetings held a little more than two years ago where “everybody that showed up was positive” toward the idea.
“Really and truly we were trying to do a favor, but it’s up to them (the mayor and council) to make the decision for the town of Brooklet,” Thompson said.
He said he expressed this to some individuals at Thursday’s meeting after one told him the county was forcing the project on Brooklet and he replied that the commissioners were not forcing anything on anyone.
Both were “drop in” meetings, with no spoken presentation. Two sets of panoramic aerial photos – three panels were needed to show the full route – were set out on easels. County staff members and engineers from Heath & Lineback, the Marietta firm which is designing the project on a contract totaling $747,671 that also includes construction management services, were there to answer questions.
The project would extend the S&S Greenway roughly 4.5 miles southeast from where it currently ends at the Five Points roundabout. From there it would parallel Josh Hagin Road, which is also to be paved, to Grimshaw Road, where a small trailhead park is proposed, and onward, between farm fields, to Brooklet.
Lane Street neighbors
In town, the route would pass by residential lots with about 30 homes, run across the street from Brooklet Elementary, and end at a proposed trailhead with restrooms and a plaza behind Brooklet Methodist Church’s John Wesley Center.
“I’m not happy,” said Traci Hendrix, a West Lane Street resident. “It’s going to take up a lot of our yard. It’s just going to add a lot of traffic in Brooklet that we haven’t had. I mean, everybody walks; we feel safe. We have streets and, you know, if they want to add a sidewalk, that’s fine, but to add that big ole walking highway, that’s not good.”
The county already owns a right of way up to 100 feet wide, the old Savannah & Statesboro Railway route. The concrete trail surface would be 12 feet wide over most of its run, narrowing to 10 feet in places. A verge, with trees and other plants, would be added on either side where possible.
However, the project is expected to require more right of way as well as temporary easements along Josh Hagin Road, and some permanent right of way would probably be needed on West Lane Street for drainage improvements and driveway tie-ins as well as at the proposed trailheads for restrooms and other proposed amenities, Steinmann said.
County staff members expected about 10 parcels to be affected by new right of way acquisition, she stated in an email.
But in areas where the county already holds sufficient right of way, the project would affect property that residents see as part of their yards, Hendrix suggested.
“Even if part of it right now is right of way, it’s still our yard,” she said. “I mean, I know that the city can take it if that’s what they so choose to do.”
“All of the people I’ve spoken to have the same concern,” said Phillip Oliver, a retired Southeast Bulloch High School teacher who has been a Brooklet homeowner for 30 years. “This is about unwanted, transient traffic that just don’t need. If they want to come to Brooklet, there are roads all the way in. … We’ll be glad to have you. We’ve got restaurants here, shops.”
“We are absolutely not opposed to a bike trail,” Oliver added a little later. “We love it, we hope people will bike and stay in shape, and my wife’s a marathon runner. We think it’s great. We’d just propose that it not come down through the middle of one of the last little quaint towns left in this area.”
He was one of several residents who suggested halting the trail extension in a field just west of the built-up portion of Brooklet.
School & church concerns
“My wife and I are very unhappy and we don’t think this is a good idea,” said Keith Roughton. “They’ve also told us now that they’re going to fence off the school for safety, which now the elementary children, which our son goes to the school, are going to feel like they’re going to an enclosed compound, which I don’t think that’s healthy for them.”
The Statesboro-Bulloch County Parks & Recreation Department, which would manage the trail as a linear park, has not proposed any fence between it and the school. Currently the design concept only includes fencing around the trail where it passes through farmland, Steinmann said.
But fencing near the school would be one possibility, along with police call boxes, lighting and surveillance, she said.
“We may be able to work with the Board of Education on things of that nature,” Steinmann said before Thursday’s meeting. “We’re really early in the design.”
Another point of concern was the placement of the proposed “Brooklet Station” trailhead, behind the John Wesley Center, where Brooklet United Methodist Church holds youth programs, contemporary worship services and Sunday school classes.
“Everybody’s concerned because it’s change, and people are creatures of habit, so that’s one thing you have to consider is that people are kind of uneasy with any kind of change, but we just don’t know how it’s going to affect us right now and we want to try to be as proactive as we can to make it a good thing if it happens,” said the Rev. W.A. “Chip” Strickland, Brooklet United Methodist’s pastor.
The Phase III project would make the entire greenway about seven miles long. After the public input meetings in fall 2018, the county was awarded a $300,000 grant from the Transportation Alternative Program, which is federally funded but administered through the Georgia Department of Transportation.
The county has $1.6 million in Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue earmarked for trail projects but plans to apply for further TAP grants for right of way and construction.