Savannah Riverkeeper asks commission for 50-year lease on riverfront property

Savannah Riverkeeper wants a 50-year lease on a city riverfront property that it has long eyed to use for recreational, educational and office space.

Tonya Bonitatibus, the director of the advocacy group, made the lease proposal at Monday’s Augusta Commission finance committee meeting, at which some city leaders questioned whether the plan complements the Augusta Tomorrow master plan.

“It’s time to put a big emphasis on action,” Bonitatibus said.

The nonprofit group has spent years cleaning the Prep Phillips Drive site, a former car junkyard, she said.

Twelve acres of the 14-acre parcel were littered with car parts, she said. There is a steel building once used for the city’s traffic and engineering field office.

Last fall, Savannah River­keeper placed a bid on the property after the city listed it as surplus for sale. The $1,000 bid was not accepted.

Bonitatibus asked for a lease at $1 a year for 50 years, similar to other nonprofit leases from the city. The commission charged the group to meet with Augusta Tomorrow before bringing the proposal back to committee at the end of the month.

Savannah Riverkeeper wants to transform the building into space for a classroom and offices and to set up an outdoor consignment shop for canoes and kayaks.

A fishing pier, kayak launch points, a disc golf course and even a beach are other potential uses, Bonitatibus said.

If the lease is approved, the riverkeeper would launch a $2 million capital campaign for improvements at the site. Cleanup also could be funded with federal grants, she said.

Commissioner Bill Fennoy said he supports the lease deal if the advocacy group works with Augusta Tomorrow.

He’d like to see a dump site transformed into recreational space.

“I don’t think we’ll have any problem getting this issue through the commission,” Fennoy said.

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