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Georgia Today: UGA football star charged; Georgia Power bill increase; Port of Savannah expansion
On the Wednesday March 1 edition of Georgia Today: A member of the UGA football team faces charges related to the deadly car crash following the Dawgs' championship win; Georgia Power wants to raise your power bill again, and we'll take you to the port of Savannah and tell you why the busy port may be getting even busier.
Peter Biello Welcome to the Georgia Today podcast from GPB News. Today is Wednesday, March 1. I'm Peter Biello. On today's episode, a member of the Georgia football team faces charges related to the deadly car crash following the Dawgs championship win. Georgia Power wants to raise your power bill again. And we'll take you to the port of Savannah and tell you why the busy port may be getting even busier. These stories and more are coming up on this edition of Georgia Today.
Peter Biello: University of Georgia star defensive back Jalen Carter has been charged with reckless driving and racing in connection with the deadly January crash that occurred after the Bulldogs won the national football championship. Athens-Clarke County police have issued an arrest warrant that alleges Carter was racing with the recruiting staffer, Chandler Lacroix, which led to the wreck that killed Lacroix and defensive lineman Devin Willock. Police say Lacroix was driving faster than 100 miles per hour and her blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit at the time of the crash. Carter, one of the projected top picks in the upcoming draft, had been due in Indianapolis today for the NFL's scouting combine and is expected to address the arrest warrant and turn himself in when he returns to Athens.
Peter Biello A Georgia Senate committee approved a voting bill that would ban absentee drop boxes. As GPB Stephen Fowler reports, state officials say it might also violate federal law.
Stephen Fowler In a late-night hearing Tuesday, the Senate Ethics Committee passed SB 221, which makes many other changes to election law. One would make it easier for people to mass-challenge voter registrations, which state elections director Blake Evans says might also violate federal law.
Blake Evans We cannot take any adverse action on that voter record to cancel that voter or to require that that voter re-apply or re-register without that voter giving us a signature or going through the confirmation notice to be — to be canceled.
Stephen Fowler Still, despite many concerns and no discussion on a last-minute addition to the bill that completely bans drop boxes, the bill moved forward and could be heard in the full Senate soon. For GPB News, I'm Stephen Fowler.
Peter Biello Georgia Power filed a request yesterday with the State Public Service Commission to recover $2 billion in fuel costs. The Atlanta-based utility says the company paid high prices for natural gas and other fuels to generate electricity. The proposal would add $17 to $23 a month to the utility's average customer. That comes as Georgia Power settles into a previously approved rate hike that took effect last month. That hike raised residential monthly bills by $3.60.
Peter Biello Georgia Power's plans for a coal ash storage pond in Cobb County would be put on hold if a new bill filed by Georgia lawmakers is passed. Coal ash is the toxic material leftover from burning coal to make electricity. The bill would make it illegal to store it in contact with groundwater. GPB's Grant Blankenship reports.
Grant Blankenship The federal rule enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency is this: coal ash should not be stored in contact with groundwater. The EPA is enforcing the rule at an Alabama power site. Georgia House Bill 564 It would make the federal coal ash rule state law. Democrat Mary Frances Williams is the bill's lead sponsor. She represents part of Cobb County, where Alabama Power sister company Georgia Power would like to store coal ash in unlined pits at Plant McDonough on the Chattahoochee River.
Mary Frances Williams This water, it belongs to the to the people is not to be used as anybody's trash. It's the — it's the source of our water, our drinking water. And we need to keep that safe.
Grant Blankenship The EPA is still reviewing Georgia Power's plans for unlined coal ash storage at five Georgia sites. For GPB News, I'm Grant Blankenship in Macon.
Peter Biello Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens plans to form a second task force to seek community input on plans to build a law enforcement training center. The mayor said yesterday that a new 40-member panel will supplement the work of a stakeholder advisory committee. The center has become a flashpoint for protesters opposed to the elimination of greenspace and what they call the militarization of police. Tensions flared after a protester was killed and a state trooper injured at the DeKalb County site in January. Allison Clark, the chair of the Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee, says the new committee is a step in the right direction and allows input on how police will be trained at the site, something that fell outside the scope of her committee.
Peter Biello Walk along Savannah's riverfront and there's a good chance you'll see massive container ships hauling tons and tons of goods to the port of Savannah. Well, even more goods may be headed to the port in the near future as the facility undergoes an expansion. GPB's Benjamin Payne took a trip to the Port of Savannah and has this story on what the project means for Georgia's economy and how the port came to be so busy in the first place.
Benjamin Payne Suzanne Gardner is driving me in her sedan through ocean terminal. It's the smaller of the two main sections of the Port of Savannah, the other being Garden City terminal about a couple of miles upstream on the Savannah River.
Susan Gardener I'll drive through a warehouse just so you can kind of see some of the stuff that goes on.
Benjamin Payne Gardner is the administrator of Ocean Terminal. Inside this warehouse, brand-new cars are parked in neat rows. The steering wheels are on the right-hand side.
Susan Gardener It's export cargo that has to go to Australia, New Zealand. And at this time of year, it has to be fumigated. They're really worried about stink bugs. And so they have to cover and tarp, all this stuff, gas it. The gas is dissipated. We wouldn't be driving you through here if there was gas. Just wanted to make sure you aren't worried about that.
Benjamin Payne These cars will disembark from the port in the hold of a cargo ship that's kind of like an oceangoing parking garage. Here at Ocean Terminal, the days are numbered for ships like this. That's because the terminal is undergoing a major overhaul, which will see it deal entirely in containerized cargo. That's pretty much anything you see on a store shelf: Toothbrushes, two by fours, frozen foods, you name it. They make the trip in one of those corrugated steel boxes stacked by the thousands on container ships. Container shipping saw explosive demand during the pandemic.
Griff Lynch By building out Ocean Terminal, we will eliminate those backlogs and queues when the business is strong again.
Benjamin Payne Griff Lynch is executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, which owns and operates the port of Savannah. Trade has slowed down in recent months as we approach what some economists predict may be a looming recession.
Griff Lynch However, the best time to build out facilities in a containerized or terminal operation environment is probably when it is a little bit slower. So for us, we think this is the perfect time to double down, make sure we build out our capacity, while it's slow. These projects take time. The lead time is two to three years. So the hope is that when this project comes online, we'll be ready to go and then absorb any new business that wants to come to Georgia.
Benjamin Payne The key word is business, not just cargo. He expects tens of thousands of new jobs will be created as a result of the increased container capacity.
Griff Lynch And it's not just all terminal. Those are trucking. Those are warehouse. Those are manufacturing jobs.
Benjamin Payne In fact, a study from the University of Georgia's Terry College of Business estimates that the ports of Savannah and Brunswick account for one out of every nine jobs in the state. A big reason companies like to build warehouses in and around Savannah isn't just because of the port itself, but where it is.
Steven Ramos Just the cut of the country's coastal geography. We're actually much further west than, say, in Norfolk.
Benjamin Payne That's University of Georgia professor Steven Ramos, who studies ports. Once container shipping cargo is offloaded to freight trains, the westward trip is often shorter than it would be from other East Coast ports.
Steven Ramos We're almost at the end lines around Cleveland, more or less.
Benjamin Payne That's right. Pull up a map and you'll see that Savannah is further west than you might think. Roughly between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. This lucky longitude has helped the port become the second biggest on the East Coast, behind only the port of New York and New Jersey. Another thing that makes the port of Savannah unique? It's the largest American port run by a single operator. That can make it easier to streamline expansion projects. Back at Ocean Terminal, Susan Gardner takes stock of the outsize impact that the port has on Savannah and beyond.
Susan Gardener A mom and pop business lives and dies by that one container that they get, you know, in and out of here every two weeks, you know, and taking pride of ownership for something like that is something to be pretty excited about.
Benjamin Payne The Ocean Terminal overhaul is scheduled to be complete in February of 2026. For GPB News, I'm Benjamin Payne in Savannah.
Peter Biello Warming temperatures across the U.S. have meant fewer nights when the temperature drops below freezing. Climate scientists expect this trend to continue. Over the next 20 years, according to meteorologists at the nonprofit Climate Central, assuming a moderate amount of carbon emissions, Georgia is expected to have about nine fewer freezing nights on average. For a look at what this means, we turn to Climate Central meteorologist Lauren Casey.
So from your research and existing data, what did Georgia look like 50 years ago from a weather standpoint, particularly winter weather and freezing weather?
Lauren Casey Yeah, well, due to human-driven climate change, we're seeing warming in all seasons all across the country, including in Georgia. And winter is the fastest-warming season in most locations and regions. Now, this has a myriad impacts on wildlife, ecosystem, health, human health and wellness, as well as recreation. So we're seeing warming in the daytime, but we're especially seeing warming in the overnight periods. So we're seeing far fewer nights below freezing.
Peter Biello And in your analysis. How did Atlanta fare?
Lauren Casey Yeah, the number for Atlanta is quite astounding. Since 1970, Atlanta now experiences on average 30 fewer nights below freezing in the wintertime season. All across the state of Georgia, your average wintertime temperature has increased by at least 3 degrees for all locations. You take a look at Atlanta, though, that figure increases to nearly 6 degrees.
Peter Biello Is there a difference felt between urban areas and rural areas when it comes to the impact of having fewer freezing nights?
Lauren Casey Absolutely. In urban areas, we see warmth that is exacerbated by the urban heat island effect. So you have all the buildings, all the impervious surfaces, all the asphalt, the concrete, the sidewalks. It retains that warmth, particularly at night and then rereleases it. So those temperatures stay warmer, typically in an urban environment than they would rural environment.
Peter Biello What about pollen? I've heard anecdotally from friends and coworkers who've lived in Georgia for a while, and they say that the pollen right now seems to be out in full force way earlier in the year than usual. What's your take?
Lauren Casey Yeah, it's really quite incredible. We're seeing blooms already. Already. And it just heard march today. And in Georgia right now, you're experiencing those spring blooms two to three weeks earlier than average — two to three weeks! So we're already dealing with the pollen from the flowering trees and plants.
Peter Biello And what impact does that have on agriculture?
Lauren Casey That has a huge implication for agriculture as well, because — especially if you go backwards a little bit for wintertime — and of particular concern in Georgia, of course, known for its peaches. We're seeing in a reduction of something called chill hours or cumulative hours with temperatures generally between freezing and 45 degrees, that fruiting trees need to kind of rest — or essentially chill — in order to produce the best crop yields in the spring and summertime. Now, if this process is compromised with these warmer overnight periods, this can have profound economic consequences for local and regional economies. Now, 84% of locations analyzed by Climate Central have experienced decreases in these chill hours since 1980.
Peter Biello Who ultimately is most affected by the reduction in nights where the temperature drops below freezing?
Lauren Casey Most impacted would be potentially rural communities, farmers, people who depend on crops for their livelihoods.
Peter Biello Let's talk solutions. What can be done to alleviate the worst impacts of having fewer freezing nights?
Lauren Casey It's a great question. Well, No. 1 is we need to reduce our dependance on carbon so we can stop this planetary warming and all of its local and regional impacts that we're seeing across the board. And we really need to invest in adaptation and mitigation and move the conversation more towards solutions. So especially investing in solar and wind energy and alleviating that dependance on carbon.
Peter Biello Lauren Casey, meteorologist for Climate Central, thank you so much for speaking with me.
Lauren Casey Thank you for having me.
Peter Biello Sam's Club plans to open a new $142 million fulfillment center in Georgia, creating an estimated 600 jobs. The Wal-Mart subsidiary said in a news release the project in Douglas County will enhance its ability to distribute goods to customers in Georgia and across the Southeast. The announcement comes a month after Sam's Club unveiled plans to add more than 30 stores in the coming years in its first expansion since 2017. Gov. Brian Kemp's office said that Sam's Club and Wal-Mart already employ more than 66,000 workers in Georgia.
Peter Biello In sports, the Atlanta Falcons released quarterback Marcus Mariota yesterday. The Falcons were 5 and 8, with Mariota as the starter before rookie Desmond Ridder started the final four games, winning two, Mariota signed a $10.5 million, two-year deal with Atlanta after the Falcons traded longtime starter Matt Ryan to Indianapolis last offseason. In completely unrelated news, the Atlanta Hawks tweeted a photo of Matt Ryan and his son sitting courtside just a few days ago, leading to much speculation among fans and sports bloggers.
Peter Biello And finally, it's going to cost more to park at one of Georgia's most popular beach destinations. Starting today, the city of Tybee Island will charge four bucks an hour. That's up from the current rate of $3.50. Annual passes will increase from $200 to $250. While some residents, commuters and visitors are grumbling at the change, city officials say it's needed to keep up with maintenance as Tybee experiences record tourism numbers. In 2021, an estimated 6.6 million people visited the island.
Peter Biello And that is it for today's edition of Georgia Today. Here's a heads up for next week. Monday is Crossover Day. That's when legislation at the state capitol moves from one chamber to the other, with only those bills approved by both chambers considered for passage into law. We will bring you the latest on the bills that will have an impact in your community. If you want to stay on top of the news, subscribe to this podcast now and we will keep the news coming every weekday afternoon. If you've got feedback, send it our way. Best way to do that is by email. The address is GeorgiaToday@GPB.org. I'm Peter Biello. Thanks again for listening. We'll see you tomorrow.