Lake Olmstead residents urge city to dredge

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Chuck and Penny Ballas had lakefront property in the 1960s. Now their backyard gives way to muck, water reeds, floating hyacinths and -- rising from the brown water beyond -- islands of dirt and scrub brush.

It's swampfront property now.

"This water used to come up to here," Mr. Ballas said, standing at the edge of his grass.

He pointed to a thick patch of reeds.

"There used to be a boat house right here. See that post?" he said, pointing to a beam sticking out of the mud, barely noticeable amid the stalks of foliage. "That used to be the end of my dock."

The Ballases, part of the family that founded Luigi's restaurant on Broad Street, live along the smaller, pondsized section of Lake Olmstead, near where Rae's Creek empties in west of the Morningside Drive, Washington Road and Calhoun Expressway bridges.

They're among dozens of residents asking the Augusta Commission to find funds to dredge the lake, contending that silt buildups are causing shallow spots and vegetation growth that threaten the 136-year-old recreation spot.

The Augusta Canal will be emptied in January and February, reducing Lake Olmstead to a creek, and the residents say that would be the best, cheapest time to do it.

"The problem isn't that we want the lake dredged just so we have more water to use," Country Club Hills resident Nancy Lindroth said. "If you abut Rae's Creek, you don't want to be flooded, and it's backing up the flow of Rae's Creek."

The lake is essentially 113 acres of canal backwater dammed up in 1872. The utilities department is draining the canal so it can run water lines under it connecting the riverfront pumping station to the city's water system, Augusta Canal Authority Executive Director Dayton Sherrouse said.

How much it would cost to dredge the lake hasn't been determined. At a town hall meeting earlier this month, estimates ranged from $3.5 million to $6 million, depending on how much is cleaned.

The last dredging was done in 1992 to remove silt washed in from the 1990 flood.

If the lake bottom is dry, cleaning it would take front-end loaders and dump trucks.

Otherwise, it takes a barge, mechanical pumps and pipes to deposit the sludge at another site, as was done in 1992 when the mud went into a pit along River Watch Parkway.

Residents living around the lake say the water depth has been so depleted that, in some sections, boats can't get through.

Water ski tournaments were held as recently as 1997. Recreation Director Tom Beck said if that were tried now, a motor boat driver unfamiliar with the shallow spots could get stuck.

Repairing the lake was once on the list for the last special-purpose penny sales tax vote, but it didn't make the cut.

When Mrs. Lindroth, a former McCormick County Council member, found out City Administrator Fred Russell was holding a meeting seeking suggestions for using the next round of SPLOST funds, she taped 200 fliers to mailboxes in Country Club Hills, Vineland, Bedford Heights, Lakemont, Lake Course and other neighborhoods near the lake.

Twenty-five people turned out for the Nov. 13 town hall meeting, all but a few raising their hands when asked who had come because of the lake.

Then about 45 people came to a meeting at Julian Smith Casino on Nov. 18, called specifically to talk about the problem.

"It'll be on my list," Mr. Russell told the crowd.

But putting it on the SPLOST list might not get the dredging done while the canal is drained.

The sales tax won't go before voters until June at the earliest, though Mr. Russell said revenue bonds or unused SPLOST funds could be options. Finding money otherwise will be tough given the tight budget year for 2009.

At the Nov. 13 meeting, former Augusta Commissioner Andy Cheek contended there's more than $3 million in the utilities department's budget that could be used, but commissioners Don Grantham and Jerry Brigham disputed that. Mr. Brigham said dredging all of Lake Olmstead could cost $6 million or more.

Residents at the meetings blamed the silt on developers along Rae's Creek.

Mrs. Lindroth blames construction at the Interstate 20-Bobby Jones Expressway interchange, which touches the creek.

The Ballases said they sometimes watch trash float by -- styrofoam cups, aluminum cans, basketballs and soccer balls. They said they used to see canoes and fishermen on their part of the lake, but that's rare now.

Sometimes a Jon boat will get stuck in the mud and they'll see the driver having to get out and pull.

"It's ruined the serenity," Mr. Ballas said. "It looks trashy, and it's just gonna' keep filling in."

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

DRAINING THE CANAL

The Augusta Utilities Department will drain the Augusta Canal this winter, tentatively from Jan. 8 to March 8. The water flow will be cut off at the headgates in Columbia County, allowing what's left in the canal to drain into the Savannah River.


Utilities will run two water lines -- both 5 feet in diameter inside 6-feet-wide casings -- under the canal to connect the pumping station on the Savannah River to the city's water system.


Two months without water will cost the Augusta Canal Authority about $150,000 in lost revenue because it will be unable to sell hydropower to Enterprise Mill and Georgia Power. Two Petersburg boats will be dry docked.

Source: Augusta Canal Authority Executive Director Dayton Sherrouse

Comments (25) Add comment
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edst4
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edst4 11/23/08 - 07:52 am
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Let's see if the city can do

Let's see if the city can do it right the 1st time. Dredge while the lake is empty, makes sense to me

Tell it like it is
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Tell it like it is 11/23/08 - 08:31 am
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If it makes sense then you

If it makes sense then you can bet the city will not do it.
I say make movies of the commisioners meetings and sell them as the " Six Stooges" the comedy antics would generate much money.

dale88fan
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dale88fan 11/23/08 - 08:42 am
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if the people that live there

if the people that live there want lake front property then they should pay for it themselves. Or move to where there is a lake !

WW1949
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WW1949 11/23/08 - 09:33 am
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dale, the lake is city

dale, the lake is city property. I grew up water skiing on the lake every afternoon in the summer. My father would take us down and unload the boat and pick us up after work. Water ski showes in the summer, a Dairy Queen and park on the small part between the bridges. It was a good fishing and recreation area. It is now filled with weeds and trash.

whatsupwiththat
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whatsupwiththat 11/23/08 - 10:29 am
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Why not use the "city's"

Why not use the "city's" resources to dredge the lake? If it's dry and all it takes are bulldozers and dumptrucks, the city should have plenty available. It doesn't appear they are doing anything else with them. As an alternative, we could empty the prison lounge for a month or so and provide some job training opportunities and recover some of our investment in the prisoners' boarding costs.

gcap
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gcap 11/23/08 - 10:37 am
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The lake is part of the canal

The lake is part of the canal system developed in the mid-1800s. The system has been used for industry, recreation, and now historic tourism. It is a fine example of long term success by the City of Augusta, maybe the only example. If the lake is left to the polution of upstream development, what's next? The canal? While the lake is dry, clean it up. Next thing you know, people will use it.

edst4
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edst4 11/23/08 - 10:56 am
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Well said whatsupwiththat

Well said whatsupwiththat

ditchdoc7
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ditchdoc7 11/23/08 - 11:10 am
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There was a time that I

There was a time that I personally held wakeboarding, and wateskiing events for groups of all ages. They were held as a family orienated events, enjoying one of the city's greatest attractions. We enlisted local business to help promote both the sport as well as the lake. But with the recent degradation of the lake, we have moved our events to other locations for safety reasons. A few years back, the city was able to find funding for a lake front development project, which was done very well. Now you have a beautiful front door to a house that needs to be demolished. I really hope that the city can find the funds needed to do the right thing(SPLOTS, grants, Federal dollars etc.) Come on City Leaders, dont throw away something with some much potential and history. (Stay with it Andy)

jimmyjohnson48
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jimmyjohnson48 11/23/08 - 12:02 pm
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It would make since to do

It would make since to do this work while the lake is drained and we have easier access, but as we all know the stooges don't see it the way smart folks do......

gcap
290
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gcap 11/23/08 - 01:23 pm
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Well said, JJ. If it makes

Well said, JJ. If it makes sense, it'll be very hard to convince the commission. Another BIG caution: If Andy Cheek is advocating for this project, there's a likelihood that he's in the dredging business now. Let him convince the commissioners with the promise that he'll just go back to work at the plant and not have anything to do with the project. Nor his family, in-laws, fraternity brothers, business partners, neighbors, preacher, and most especially his former colleagues on the commission (Marion Williams!). Heck, between the current commission and the former commissioners, getting good economic, environmental and logical work done is hoping against hope.

mable8
2
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mable8 11/23/08 - 03:03 pm
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If the homeowners don't like

If the homeowners don't like the trash, then get out and pick it up. Even if the area is "city property," most taxpayers can't use it anyway. Sorry, but I just don't feel sorry for these homeowners; nature has a way of taking back her own whether man likes it or not. Either the homeowners do what they can to clean up the area or move to what they consider a more "pristine" place to live.

IncredibleGuy
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IncredibleGuy 11/23/08 - 03:21 pm
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mable i do clean it up; going

mable i do clean it up; going to come dump it in your yard. GDOT, owes us to clean it up, they ruined it. Maybe u like living in dumps, not us with class

IncredibleGuy
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IncredibleGuy 11/23/08 - 03:23 pm
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dale, your stale.....get over

dale, your stale.....get over it, you can use the lake and canal too.....just cause someone has a house on it nearby, doesnt make the responsible. Grow up.

mable8
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mable8 11/23/08 - 03:30 pm
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Best defense: You have NO

Best defense: You have NO CLASS, believe me; if you did, your response would not have been so juvenile. I owe you nothing and do not want my taxpaying dollars to provide you and yours the natural beauty of this world that should not be denied to others. You may have money, but you also have crass and little else.

BakersfieldCityLimits
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BakersfieldCityLimits 11/23/08 - 03:32 pm
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Clean up your own lake folks.

Clean up your own lake folks. We need to save every cent for afforable housing for our seniors and programs for at risk youths. Do as you always preach and pull yourselves up from the bootstraps. The collective will not waste resources to aggrandize your homes.

Tujeez
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Tujeez 11/23/08 - 04:00 pm
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If silt and runoff from

If silt and runoff from development is causing the problems, let the "new" local tax zones for community development, that was passed on the recent election ballot pay for the restoration. The GA Department of Natural Resources Environmental Protection Division should be involved in finding the responsible parties. Maybe their lack of effort in the first place will cause the State to allocate funding for the project. In either event, Those of you complaining should have already gotten them involved.

Tujeez
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Tujeez 11/23/08 - 04:27 pm
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mable8, You're probably one

mable8, You're probably one of those that think nothing of littering. Maybe you ought to pick up a little refuse now and then and maybe you wouldn't like it either. Environmental responsibility is everyones job. If sewage was boiling up from the sewer in your neighborhood, would you feel it was YOUR job to clean it up?

Tujeez
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Tujeez 11/23/08 - 04:35 pm
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Lake Olmstead used to be a

Lake Olmstead used to be a Beautiful place to enjoy outdoor activities. I visited a friend that lived on the "private" side a few years ago. There were a lot of people fishing there, mostly minorities. The neglect of the lake is a tragedy. The city of Augusta has a number of public spots that are being neglected. While they dream of Venetian canals and Riverfront Stadiums. If they would take care of the ones they have, maybe they wouldn't recieve so much opposition to building new ones.

gcap
290
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gcap 11/23/08 - 06:28 pm
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Tu, you make a pretty good

Tu, you make a pretty good case for making the lake good for all. Those who would have adjacent homeowners do their dirty work for free are only freeloaders who don't understand the benefit a healthy lake is for the community. And D1216, you must be one of the parents who depend on government to raise your children and house your parents. Lest I leave out any other with no vision, mable, seems you would have everyone else pay or do work the government should do. The two of you need to take personal responsibility for your own lives, children, and parents and share in the responsibility of government. I drove around the lake today. Fully 80 percent of the residences seem happily occupied and well maintained. Let the lake go and that percentage will go to about 30 percent with those left clinging to the notion that government in Richmond County will rebound.

quickfeet
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quickfeet 11/23/08 - 07:24 pm
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3 to 6 million to dredge the

3 to 6 million to dredge the lake. give me a break. man i would love to get that contract.... .

BakersfieldCityLimits
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BakersfieldCityLimits 11/23/08 - 08:12 pm
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Gcap, beat the rush, and go

Gcap, beat the rush, and go now. We're doing for ourselves now not building you a ski lake. Here is a news flash, we're not going to build you a golf course or rodeo pit either.

gcap
290
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gcap 11/23/08 - 08:42 pm
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D, I'm afraid it's too late.

D, I'm afraid it's too late. I'm already in Columbia County and was a part of the rush a few years ago. Got out when the getting was good. As I've said in these posts many times: Of the eight in my family (all raised in Richmond County), two remain. And they are in Westover. Why'd we leave? Because of the likes of you, and darn glad we did. If Augustans would think progressively and educate their children, I might come back. But as I read these posts, I see that in my lifetime that's a pipe dream. And to prove your lack of knowledge, without golf and horses, Augusta would be broke. Sorry, not a news flash.

lifelongresidient
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lifelongresidient 11/25/08 - 01:01 pm
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just to indicate the foward

just to indicate the foward thinking ideas of augusta, WHY WOULD YOU PUT A HOUSING PROJECT NEXT TO WATER???? the city has some of the most desireable tract of land in the city in close proximity to the nicest area in the city. the perfect solution is todredge the lake and empty out the olmstead home projects and turn over to a developer or sell out right the newly renovated home to WORKING PRODUCTIVE CITIZENS, instead of money being used to subsidize the rents of baby momma's with 4 kids and 4 different daddy's, not to mention the level of crime in the areas surrounding lake olmstead

disssman
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disssman 11/25/08 - 05:17 pm
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I can think of a H___ of a

I can think of a H___ of a lot more important things to spend $5 mil on than to make a better boating area for these folks! Things like paving Reynolds street, I have an idea, why don't they get their neighborhood together and do it themselves while the water is gone? In conclusion I hear the rumblings of another wonderful Golf and Gardens type of project here after we spend a pile of money for a study!!

IncredibleGuy
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IncredibleGuy 11/25/08 - 06:16 pm
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mable, if a truck dumped a

mable, if a truck dumped a bunch of silt, trash, toxic waste right outside your driveway, do u think you should clean it up or should you just move?

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