A new option being explored for New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam involves filling in and closing the lock, rather than restoring it, and keeping the structure only as a dam.
According to a summary provided by the Army Corps of Engineers’ Savannah District Civil Works Team, the option was identified “as a potential way to reduce the cost of rehabilitating the structure to keep the pool that extends upstream to the City.”
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. The corps’ plan to demolish it was opposed by local stakeholders, who rely on its water.
Local industries and governments formed a consortium to adopt the property, and Congress passed a law authorizing its restoration before its transfer to local jurisdictions.
The renovation was never funded, however.
The most recent developments unfolded last month, when the stakeholder consortium agreed to finance a $300,000 federal disposition study to update repair options.
“That study will include an estimate of the cost to fill the lock and repair/rehabilitate just the dam (and its five gates), as well as an estimate for repair/rehabilitation of both the lock and the dam,” the corps team
In yet another development, environmental funding linked to the planned expansion of Savannah Harbor will be appropriated to build a fish passage structure at New Savannah Bluff. That plan, however, does not include funding for the renovation of the dam itself, or the increasingly unreliable lock.
North Augusta Mayor Lark Jones said it would make the most sense to combine the projects.
“That sounds like a more economical way that would make more sense,” he said.
Filling the lock and repairing only the dam, he said, is a decision that all the stakeholders would have to consider.
In addition to being used for industrial processes and drinking water, the pool of water backed up by the dam helps preserve the aesthetics of Augusta and North Augusta, Jones said.
“The goal is to save the water level in that part of the river, for all the reasons we discussed,” he said.
Augusta City Administrator Fred Russell said the concept of filling the lock is not a popular one.
“Being landlocked after 200 years isn’t the position we want to be in, from our perspective,” he said. “But our major concern is keeping the pool, and our secondary concern is keeping the locks.”
The corps study is expected to take about 20 months.
Currently, the locks are opened about 50 times a year, by appointment, said Augusta Port Authority Chairman Wayne Hawkins.
In addition to Augusta and North Augusta, the stakeholders’ consortium includes Aiken County, DSM, Kimberly-Clark, General Chemical, Potash Corp. and South Carolina Electric & Gas Co.