Few naysayers at canal forum

About 50 people turned out for Augusta Commissioner Andy Cheek's first town hall meeting on his proposal to build a canal in downtown Augusta, and many who spoke were enthusiastic.

 

"So what we have here is a win-win situation," Michael "Flippa" Griffin said.

Brad Owens called Mr. Cheek's "Ellis Street Option," which would divert water from the Augusta Canal down Ellis Street from 12th Street to Sixth Street, "an amazing plan."

"This is the type of progressive, forward thinking that Augusta hasn't had in two generations," he said, but he warned there will be many naysayers.

"Now there's so many people out there that are going to tell us why we can't do this, why we shouldn't do it, why it can't be done, why it's pie in the sky. You'll hear things like 'crazy' thrown around," he said.

Mr. Cheek, Mr. Griffin and Mr. Owens stressed the need for Augusta to increase its eroding tax base.

"When the new centers opened up in Columbia County, they took our retail sales-tax base away from Augusta," Mr. Griffin said. "Well, if you don't have retail sales tax coming in, guess who's going to have to pay the bill? Property owners. ... I don't want any new property taxes, which is why I'm so in favor of this. This will bring in more retail sales tax than any idea I've seen in a long time."

Mr. Owens said it is a shame Mr. Cheek will be leaving office at the end of the year, when his second four-year term expires, because such a project takes an engine pushing it to get it going.

Several of the people who spoke at the forum at Bernie Ward Community Center asked about cost and completion time.

"How much will it cost to develop this project, and how long will it take?" Ban Hassan asked.

Mr. Cheek estimated it would take a year to do the studies and then it would depend on how voters wanted to finance the two-mile, concrete-lined, 5-foot-deep canal. He said Oklahoma City built its canal in about five years.

"We could do it sooner if we put our hearts in it," Mr. Cheek said.

He said the cost would be between $24 million and $45 million.

Juanita Burney asked whether the city owns the necessary property or whether it would have to buy right of way.

"We own the right of way," Mr. Cheek said. "We own the water. The canal is in place. We have to figure out a way to pay for it."

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.

WHAT'S NEXT:

A second town hall meeting on the "Ellis Street Option" will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at Warren Road Community Center, 300 Warren Road.