New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam demolition reproposed

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A federal agency evaluating the controversial plan to deepen Savannah Harbor is resurrecting efforts to demolish New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam near Augusta.

No money has been allocated in the past 11 years for repairs to New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam after the Army Corps of Engineers recommended it for demolition.  File/Staff
File/Staff
No money has been allocated in the past 11 years for repairs to New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam after the Army Corps of Engineers recommended it for demolition.

The 74-year-old structure near Augusta Regional Airport blocks upstream migration of the endangered shortnose sturgeon and other species -- and was earmarked for removal after a 1999 Army Corps of Engineers study found that it was no longer needed for commercial shipping, the purpose for which it was built.

Since then, efforts by local governments 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.

Congress never allocated the $22 million needed to renovate the dam.

Georgia's $600 million plan to deepen Savannah Harbor includes a series of mitigation measures to offset the inevitable damage to coastal habitats used by the shortnose sturgeon and its larger cousin, the Atlantic sturgeon.

One of those measures includes a $7 million fish passage structure that would allow fish to swim around New Savannah Bluff and access the miles of shoals and other habitat above Augusta.

The problem with that plan, however, is that it might provide no help for the sturgeon, which might not even use the device, according to Roy Crabtree, the regional administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service.

In a recent letter to Col. Jeffrey Hall, the corps' Savannah District commander, Crabtree said that adequate mitigation for the sturgeon will require re-establishing access above New Savannah Bluff and that the proposed fish passage device probably would not work.

At the very least, he wrote, extensive design changes will be needed, and even if an acceptable design could be agreed on, significant funding would be required to monitor and maintain the device forever.

"The removal of the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam is our preferred method to allow sturgeon access to upstream habitats," he wrote.

Although removing the dam would restore fish access to the river's upper reaches, it would also require -- literally -- an act of Congress, corps spokesman Billy Birdwell said.

"Our recommendation has always been that we should remove the thing," he said. "That has been the corps' standard position on this and on other facilities we no longer use, and that no longer serve their mission."

Currently, the dam remains in political limbo: Congress has ordered the corps to repair it and turn it over to the local governments, but never funded that mandate.

"The local governments won't take it until it is rehabbed, but Congress has not given us any appropriation to conduct the rehab," Birdwell said.

Crabtree's letter acknowledged that the corps would have to seek congressional authority to remove the dam, but said that the corps will already be approaching Congress to seek approval for the increased costs of the Savannah Harbor project.

"Combining these authorization requests presents an ideal opportunity to redress the environmental damage of the Corps of Engineers' legacy dam while advocating the modern economic benefits of the project," he wrote.

If the dam were removed, or if a fish passage structure were built, the completion of either project would trigger requirements for fish passage systems at two other dams above the city -- the Augusta Diversion Dam at the canal headgates, and the Stevens Creek hydroelectric dam owned by South Carolina Electric & Gas Co.

Both upstream dams are under pressure from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to provide fish passage, but both were allowed to place such projects on hold until such time as fish can move past New Savannah Bluff, which currently blocks most upstream migration.

Timeline

APRIL 26, 1816: Commercial shipping on the Savannah River is born with the launch of the Enterprise, a steamboat owned by businessman Samuel Howard.

1820 TO THE 1850s: As many as 20 commercial steamers travel the river, departing Augusta almost daily with up to 1,000 bales of cotton.

1850s to 1900: River commerce dwindles as railroads haul more cargo and passengers.

1927: Congress authorizes New Savannah Bluff Lock & Dam.

1937: New Savannah Bluff Lock & Dam is dedicated.

1950s: Oil and timber barges use the lock regularly.

1960s: Commerce dwindles and the use of the lock decreases.

1979: In the absence of commercial traffic, the corps ceases all maintenance on the river channel and the lock and dam.

1986: The corps announces plans to close the lock, but Augusta officials want it kept open and agree to renovate and lease the nearby park.

2000: A federal study recommends the lock be dismantled and removed, and an experimental draw-down imitating a low-flow 100-year drought is conducted to illustrate how the river might look.

2001: Local governments agree to assume ownership of the project if Congress would finance repairs, estimated at that time to cost $6.8 million, compared with $5.3 million for demolition.

2005: Complete renovations are re-estimated at $22 million, which includes a fish passage. Local governments insist it be repaired at federal expense before they take title.

2006: The corps receives $1.19 million in planning and engineering funds for the renovations but no construction money.

2007: The corps concludes a new study will be needed to recalculate the rising costs.

2010: Congress continues to refuse to fund renovations, but a $7 million fish passage device is proposed as part of mitigation for a planned Savannah Harbor expansion.

2011: The National Marine Fisheries Service contends fish structure is insufficient and concludes the best option is to demolish and remove the dam.

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Riverman1
87157
Points
Riverman1 03/15/11 - 07:34 pm
0
0
Removing the 74 year old dam

Removing the 74 year old dam will dramatically change the shore line and look of Augusta. Remember the drawdown when a stream of water surrounded by mud is all that was left.

I've attended meetings with the COE and other river experts and the theme was that for whatever reason a dam or lake was built, it had changed the shore line and area and had to be considered permanent whether it was serving its original purpose or not. Removing the dam will have a deleterious effect on drinking water intakes, Riverwalk, the property owners on the river and recreation all the way from Savannah Rapids Pavillion to past Augusta.

MolonLabe
0
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MolonLabe 03/15/11 - 07:34 pm
0
0
What did the fish say when he

What did the fish say when he swam into the concrete wall? DAM. What did his buddies call him when they saw him do it? A dumb bass!

Crime Reports and Rewards TV
33
Points
Crime Reports and Rewards TV 03/15/11 - 08:18 pm
0
0
The only upside is the The

The only upside is the The National Marine Fisheries Service may not have time to knock it down before they go broke.. ha haha

Little Lamb
47042
Points
Little Lamb 03/16/11 - 08:16 am
0
0
Count me in as being in favor

Count me in as being in favor of removing the dam. And let us remember this factoid, RM: It is not the responsibility of the Corps of Engineers to enhance the value of those few who own riverfront property.

Also, we have read newspaper articles from Stacey Eidson and others how terrible the Riverwalk is being maintained, how much crime is committed there, and how little Riverwalk is used by the general public. Therefore, tearing down the dam will have no "deleterious effect" on Riverwalk.

airbud7
1
Points
airbud7 03/16/11 - 08:14 am
0
0
Funny stuff MolonLabe! What

Funny stuff MolonLabe!
What do you call someone who works at a dam?

Riverman1
87157
Points
Riverman1 03/16/11 - 09:47 am
0
0
LL, if the dam had never been

LL, if the dam had never been built, fine, but the thing has been there for 74 years and communities have grown up around the water level.

Let's not forget the proposal to simply concrete the thing up to keep the backpool permanently. That should be the first solution if it is decided a working dam can't be maintained.

paulwheeler
124
Points
paulwheeler 03/16/11 - 09:53 am
0
0
As much money as the Corps

As much money as the Corps plans to waste on Savannah Harbor, what's a few million more to repair Savannah Bluff and install a proper fish passage? Where is our congressional representation on this? Why aren't they pushing to the point of exhaustion to have this taken care of?

Riverman1
87157
Points
Riverman1 03/16/11 - 09:57 am
0
0
The state is going to pay a

The state is going to pay a large portion for the Savannah harbor deepening. South Carolina has said they aren't paying because they want to develop a port on their side, closer to the ocean. Why can't the state pay for our dam?

JakeQ
69
Points
JakeQ 03/16/11 - 10:32 am
0
0
The simple answer is

The simple answer is priorities. That's why the rennovation hasn't been funded yet, when you look at projects like the Savannah Harbor deepending and the huge economic impacts of completing it, it's pretty easy to see why the money for our little dam and it's comparatively small impacts hasn't come yet. With the cuts our government needs to make to live within it's means, it's my guess New Savannah Bluff will fall over before the repairs get funded. Who knows, maybe they could find a private company that wants to put hydropower generators in the dam that would be willing to fund part of the rehab.

JakeQ
69
Points
JakeQ 03/16/11 - 11:12 am
0
0
This article got me thinking.

This article got me thinking. Of course NMFS wants the lock and dam gone, their mission is to protect fish habitat. I believe they want the canal gone, too.
Right now NMFS cannot force removal of or changes to the dam because it is owned by the Corps of Engineers. Once it's turned over to the local government, I believe they can. Since Mr. Crabtree said removal is NMFS preferred solution, isn't it a very real possibility that if Congress funded the rehab, and the dam was turned over, that NMFS would immediately try to force it's removal?

tuffenuf4u
0
Points
tuffenuf4u 03/16/11 - 11:12 am
0
0
There seems to be a dam

There seems to be a dam problem here.

Aiken Pyles
0
Points
Aiken Pyles 03/16/11 - 11:57 am
0
0
The Lock & Dam cannot justify

The Lock & Dam cannot justify it's existence, which is to facilitate a shipping channel. There has not been a commercial ship using the locks since 1978 and the Corps is mandated to remove these worthless impediments for fish. The future of our ocean fishing is dependent on the fingerlings that (used to) come from East coast rivers. Almost all these rivers have dams at the fall points, where shoals begin and this has decimated the herring population, among others.

The Savannah River has the best potential to restore these spawning areas on the East Coast. Did you know Augustans used to can Shad Roe and you could wade out there and catch Shad easily with nets?

As far as the recreational value of the pool, what recreation? Is there someplace you can get a sandwich or drink closer than Savannah? Does anybody get to enjoy the river from our bank or even gaze upon it? Augusta has extended their water intakes into the river knowing this would happen and the industries can extend their intakes as well.

After a drawdown, the mud would soon give way to beaches and vegetation like long ago. Downstream, there is plenty of still, meandering river.

Riverman1
87157
Points
Riverman1 03/16/11 - 12:08 pm
0
0
Since the canal has no

Since the canal has no purpose and it costs money to maintain, should it, too, be done away with?

Aiken Pyles
0
Points
Aiken Pyles 03/16/11 - 12:18 pm
0
0
The canal has plenty of

The canal has plenty of purpose. Chiefly, hydropower and recreation. How else could we afford Dayton Sherrous?

Riverman1
87157
Points
Riverman1 03/16/11 - 12:25 pm
0
0
Nope, the canal hasn't

Nope, the canal hasn't produced hydroelectric power in years. The river has lots more boaters, rowers and fishermen than the canal.

Aiken Pyles
0
Points
Aiken Pyles 03/16/11 - 12:33 pm
0
0
It produces power for

It produces power for Enterprise Mills and a mill is paying the canal authority for hydropower. It also powers the pumps at the Pump station.

Riverman1
87157
Points
Riverman1 03/16/11 - 12:45 pm
0
0
Ah, you are right about

Ah, you are right about Enterprise Mills, but I believe the mill ceased operation when they were made to pay. I could be wrong on that. Still, that's hardly enough power or income to justify it's existence and upkeep. But realize I'm only asking rhetorical questions here to point out that we are not about to do away with the canal or to allow the backpool from the river to go away. Losing one or both would change the face of Augusta and North Augusta.

GaRealist
22
Points
GaRealist 03/16/11 - 02:13 pm
0
0
Why can't the lower lock be

Why can't the lower lock be repaired and the Savannah River be dredged for traffic. Why can't Augusta, Ga. become the largest inland port in the world that it used to be. Containers could be loaded on barges and moved up river in large numbers, then off loaded and delivered from AUGUSTA. Saving fuel, highway dollars and the inevitable more traffic on our interstate highways. This would spark more interest in Augusta, Ga. This type of thinking would make heavy industry take a serious look at Augusta as a place to do business. Creating more JOBS. We should quit thinking small and return Augusta, Ga. to being the industrial hub it used to be.

Aiken Pyles
0
Points
Aiken Pyles 03/16/11 - 02:21 pm
0
0
GA Realist, Get on Google

GA Realist, Get on Google Earth and trace the Savannah south of Augusta. If you straightened it out it would circle the earth! The big container ships in use now cannot make it.

If we want jobs and sales taxes, then we should take down the levee in downtown Augusta and let private developers buy the waterfront and build it up like so many other cities have done with tremendous success.

Riverman1
87157
Points
Riverman1 03/16/11 - 04:13 pm
0
0
GaRealist is talking about

GaRealist is talking about barges as used to be done, not big container ships. Wouldn't it be something to see a huge Chinese container ship docking in Augusta? Heh, heh.

knighttime
1
Points
knighttime 03/16/11 - 06:02 pm
0
0
when it all shakes out

when it all shakes out somebody is gonna get paid... location. location. location.......

texred
0
Points
texred 03/16/11 - 06:07 pm
0
0
Sounds like someone is more

Sounds like someone is more interested in the fish than the jobs and water supply created by the dam and locks.....The fish will survive in what is there now -- aren't people still catching fish out of the Savanah River below the lock. ---- Oh them poor little fishes! ! ! ! !

SCRebel
10
Points
SCRebel 03/16/11 - 06:46 pm
0
0
Clarifications : 1) All three

Clarifications : 1) All three mills currently producie hydropower; Enterprise and King use some internally, sell the rest, Sibley Mill power is sold to GA Power just like the excess from the other two mills. 2) NMFS cannot "force" anyone to remove a dam, they can make a recommendation as part of a Federal Action (i.e. Permit or license) under ESA or in other cases mandetory conditioning authority 3) NMFS is currently the entity standing in the way of establishing fish passage at the Augusta Diversion Dam.

Question : How many success stories involving NMFS in enhancing fisheries. can anyone recall..few to none. I recall an issue of the west coast where NMFS REQUIRED a public utility or entity to install a fishway to pass salmon upstream and downstream. Promptly Seals (for which NMFS is also charged with protecting under the Marine Protection Act) set up shop and utilized the fishway as an "All you can eat buffet". NMFS hands were tied because of non-harassment clauses in the Protection Acts so the seals continued to feed away on the salmon. Defeating the fishway purpose and likley doing more harm to the salmon populations than before.

NMFS has less than stellar record when it comes to commercial fisheries management...check the record, you might find it interesting.

Aquatic1
0
Points
Aquatic1 03/21/11 - 02:16 pm
0
0
Taking the dam out would mean

Taking the dam out would mean more recreation, not less. Shad fishing, striper fishing, kayaking, etc. Right now, that's just a stagnant pool full of rotting leaves and worms... literally. I've been in there in a SCUBA suit - ick!! It's deader than a doornail in that pond.

You'd have one year of mud out there, then things would grow back like crazy. Instead of a hot pool of algae, you'd have flowing water and a pleasant sound. Some parts would still be boatable, if that's your deal.

Water intakes can pull from rivers just as easily as pools -- they do all up and down the Savannah. No dams needed.

Think in possibilities. Plus once its done, all that follows would come for free, not $22M and perpetual tinkering from there.

Aquatic1
0
Points
Aquatic1 03/21/11 - 02:18 pm
0
0
The dam just sits there - not

The dam just sits there - not one single job attributable to it. In fact, it costs jobs in the form of lost opportunities.

No need either, to sweat the track record of NMFS here. Just pull the dam and the fish will do their own work.

Aquatic1
0
Points
Aquatic1 03/21/11 - 02:20 pm
0
0
And who would chug goods up a

And who would chug goods up a river at a few miles an hour, when you can rail it or truck it at 70mph? Come on, people... ! This isn't 1850.

Aquatic1
0
Points
Aquatic1 03/21/11 - 03:26 pm
0
0
texred... time to read up.

texred... time to read up. There's fish, like little minnows and carp (yuk) and then there's fish like stripers (big, fun, good to eat, and which an entire economy can build up around ala Outer Banks in NC). Stripers need to get to the rocks; trash fish don't care.

I guess if you don't fish, you don't care.

Riverman1
87157
Points
Riverman1 03/21/11 - 04:24 pm
0
0
I can tell you there are lots

I can tell you there are lots of fish in the river. Huge bass, stripers, crappie and bream. My son caught a big striper weekend before last. I could tell you fish stories all day about the river.

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