Stimulus bill could aid dam

A stalled effort to renovate New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam might earn funding support through a broad economic stimulus program under preparation by the new Congress.


"It's shovel-ready, which is the sort of thing they are looking for," North Augusta City Administrator Sam Bennett said.

The 72-year-old Army Corps of Engineers dam near Augusta needs $22 million in renovations before it can be turned over to local governments to manage as a water supply structure.

Congress authorized the repair project in 2000, and design work has been completed for a fish-passage structure that will accompany the renovation. But the project was never fully funded.

This year could be different, Mr. Bennett said.

"We have had conversations with the Corps of Engineers, and they have included it as part of their projects they feel would be important to be funded under the stimulus package," he said. "They're going to ask for it internally."

Municipal authorities are ramping up dialogue with congressional offices in Georgia and South Carolina in hopes of convincing the lawmakers of the project's importance to the region.

"We've let them know this is something we'd like to see as a priority," Mr. Bennett said.

In 1999, the corps proposed demolishing New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam because it no longer supported commercial shipping -- the purpose for which it was built in 1937.

Efforts to save the dam -- and its 13-mile pool of water tapped by industries and cities -- yielded a congressional decree that it be repaired and turned over to local municipalities to maintain. Those include North Augusta, Aiken County and the city of Augusta, which would contribute to maintenance.

The renovation could also gain funding support from a separate project 200 miles downstream, where a plan is under way to deepen Savannah Harbor to accommodate larger ships.

Among a host of environmental concerns aired by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service were the harbor project's negative impact on striped bass populations and on the shortnose sturgeon, an endangered species that swims upriver to spawn in the Augusta shoals.

New Savannah Bluff blocks the sturgeon's migration, and the corps proposed building a fish-passage device on the South Carolina side of the dam as part of the mitigation plan for the harbor project. If a fish-passage area were built, it would open more than 20 miles of river to the affected species.

Corps spokesman Billy Birdwell said the New Savannah Bluff funding was still part of the corps' request, but he would not answer questions about whether its status could change under the pending economic stimulus program.

"We really can't talk about pending legislation until it becomes law," he said.

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119, or