Homeowners upset that only portion of Lake Olmstead will be dredged

Expectations, meet reality.

Homeowners along Lake Olmstead got a rude awakening when a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ notice of a pending city dredging application pointed to a forgotten corner of the 100-acre lake across Washington Road.

Lakemont Homeowners Association President Brooke Buxton said she and fellow Olmstead homeowners were flabbergasted to learn, from the notice, that the city’s $4 million 2009 sales tax appropriation for dredging was intended only for the upper portion and a lower edge adjoining the Augusta Canal.

“Probably 100 percent of the public would not consider that a part of the lake,” said Buxton, calling the move a “bait-and-switch” after years of homeowner association communications with city officials about the application status.

The decision offers nothing toward increasing recreational and revenue opportunities at the lake’s larger lower portion, which is clotted with silt, weeds and trash – even the remains of sunken waterski ramps, she said.

The decision, however, has been in the works for years and always has been to dredge the upper portion because it bears the brunt of silt accumulation from the entire Rae’s Creek basin, said city Engineering Director Abie Ladson.

The corps recommended the city include similar dredging projects at other sites along the basin – including Aumond Lake, Hiers Pond and Warren Lake – in its application for convenience, but the $4 million is designated for the two sites at Olmstead, he said.

“With that kind of money, you just get the really bad, the worst areas,” Ladson said. “There wasn’t any intention of doing the whole lake. The cost would probably be astronomical.”

The project calls for the removal of 90,200 cubic yards of material from the upper part of the lake and 37,500 cubic yards from the lower part, affecting a total of about 25 acres, according to the application.

Buxton said the association hopes to make what might seem impossible to city officials a reality and is petitioning the city to amend its application to cover the whole lake.

It’s the right thing to do for what once was considered “the jewel of the South” and attracted tourists by trolley to swim and boat, she said.

“I think the will of the people, and just general wisdom, would dictate that the lake needs to be dredged,” Buxton said.

Ladson added that anything is possible if the Augusta Commission agrees, and he is developing a “conceptual estimate” to dredge the entire lake. He expected the cost to run between $10 million and $20 million.

Members of the homeowner association will present their proposal to the city’s engineering services committee Monday, Buxton said.

The Environmental Protection Agency has requested an additional 30 days to review the city’s application, which puts the end of that public comment period sometime around March, said Forrest Vanderbilt, a regulatory specialist for the corps’ Coastal Branch.

With no other changes, the completed application usually takes about 120 days for final approval, Vanderbilt said.

City officials denied misleading the public about the project. City Administrator Fred Russell said any talk about the entire lake being dredged had been “conceptual,” and District 7 Commissioner Donnie Smith said he has researched the situation thoroughly and will listen to the association’s plea Monday.

“I don’t think there was ever enough money to dredge the entire system,” said former Commissioner Jerry Brigham, who represented the lake’s western banks for two terms until leaving office last year. “I’m sure whatever is done will make Lake Olmstead better than how it’s going now.”

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