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United, they stand a chance
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Presenting something akin to a united front hasn’t always been easy in Effingham County. This month, local leaders and officials have had a couple of chances to do that with some of the state’s top decision makers, Environmental Protection Division Director Dr. Carol Couch and Department of Transportation of Commissioner Harold Linnenkohl.

The meetings served a couple of purposes, especially for the county — they gave leaders a chance to plea for help from the state for alleviating its restrictions on groundwater and easing the traffic burden in and around Effingham. Not that that will be easy or forthcoming anytime soon.

Effingham isn’t the only county in the Coastal Empire, much less the state, facing a water and roads crunch. So is nearly all of metro Atlanta, which now stretches from a little north of Macon to past Lake Lanier and it’s inching closer to the Tennessee state line.

How important is it that Effingham has enough water and wastewater resources? In this month’s Georgia Trend magazine, in its region-by-region look at the state, no county in southeast Georgia grew as much from 2001-06 as Effingham.

No county is projected to grow as much as Effingham through 2011. (One thing about the Georgia Trend’s grouping of counties for regions leads me to scratch my head. Effingham was put in the Southeast region. OK, that makes sense. So was Screven. Bulloch was put in the East Central region. Bulloch is south and east of Screven, yet is in the East Central, and Screven is in the Southeast region.)

As a follow-up from the earlier meeting with Dr. Couch, county representatives met with the EPD’s Curtis Boswell on Wednesday to talk about where and how to use reuse water. They also were scheduled to meet with Jeff Larson, the EPD’s newly appointed liaison for the area, who will help guide local governments through the EPD’s processes. Larson’s main job is assistant watershed protection branch chief for the Savannah/Ogeechee River basins.

Here’s why those meetings, where a lot of the details and questions can be worked out, are important.

Current estimates put Effingham’s population at 48,228, up more than 9,000 from 2001’s figures. By 2011, more than 60,000 people are expected to call Effingham County home. Only Liberty, Glynn and Chatham are expected to have more people, and Effingham’s population will be within about 2,000 of Liberty’s. No county, again, will grow as fast as Effingham in the next four years.

Those people who will be coming to Effingham, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business, will place even more demands on the county’s infrastructure.

As it stands now, Effingham’s per capita income is fourth — behind Bryan, Chatham and Glynn — among the 23 counties in the Southeast region. Businesses, especially retail, like strong per capita income figures.

Those same estimates call for Effingham’s employment rate, second only to Bryan County from 2001-06, to maintain its steady, sturdy pace.

So when folks from the county and the municipalities talk about more growth coming, and coming soon, they’re not the only ones. That’s why it’s imperative now for them to work as cohesively as possible when sitting down with the state.

There are still a number of local issues to be worked out, such as Rincon’s water deal with the county, that the state is taking a keen interest in.

The state tends to listen a little closer to a community on the same page. It may not give the answer everyone wants, but it at least it opens its ears. And at least that’s a start.