Local governments and industries that rely on the pool of water backed up by New Savannah Bluff Lock & Dam agreed Monday to finance a federal study that could help get money to renovate the 75-year-old structure.
“The study would take several years, but it is part of a long-term solution,” said North Augusta Mayor Lark Jones, whose city is part of a stakeholder consortium formed 12 years ago to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to renovate the dam and eventually turn it over to local governments to own and maintain.
The corps, which built the structure in 1937, concluded in 1999 that the dam no longer served commercial shipping – the sole purpose for which it was built. Its plan to demolish the structure was opposed by local stakeholders, who rely on its water.
U.S. Rep. John Barrow, who organized a stakeholder meeting Monday that was closed to the public, said afterward that updated studies might help reauthorize the dam for today’s needs.
“The thing has lasted 75 years for one purpose,” Barrow said. “During that time, a lot of other purposes have grown up around it.”
Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver said the dam’s consistent pool is a key part of the local economy – on both sides of the river – and is essential for uses ranging from drinking water and industrial processes to recreation and future development.
The stakeholder consortium, Jones said, will contribute $300,000 for an updated study, which would allow the corps to re-evaluate the dam’s condition and authorized uses under the 1970 Flood Control Act.
The estimated costs of the renovation have expanded from $6.8 million a decade ago to more than $22 million today, and could rise even more under updated studies.
Portions of the renovation must include a structure to allow migrating sturgeon and other species to swim upstream toward Augusta.
The fish passage device, whose cost estimate has risen from $7 million in 1999 to $32.2 million today, is expected to be financed from money associated with the $652 million deepening of Savannah Harbor.
“It appears it will get separate funding from the Savannah Harbor expansion for that part of the project,” Jones said, adding that the repairs to the lock gates and other components would not be included.
The stakeholders’ consortium also includes Augusta-Richmond County, Aiken County, DSM, Kimberly-Clark, General Chemical, Potash Corp., DSM and South Carolina Electric & Gas Co.