There sure has been a lot of hubbub in the news about dredging Lake Olmstead. With all the stakeholders involved, there are plenty of strong opinions about its importance. But I assure you, the main issue is nothing short of special interest groups winning out over the majority of Richmond County citizens. Let me explain.
In 2009, most of us voted for a 1-percent sales tax increase to provide funds for special projects in Richmond County. One of those projects was listed as “Dredge Lake Olmstead,” and $4 million was earmarked for this dredging. This commitment was enough to sway the votes of the Lakemont Neighborhood Association. After all, some of us live on the lake and we see its potential. Since that vote, we have been looking forward to this dredging to spark the rebirth of this jewel of the South.
Did you know that the lake is part of a National Heritage Area? These areas are like national parks. They define our heritage. They are who we are. Are you old enough to remember the national waterskiing events, learning how to swim in the 100-acre lake, paddle-boating or diving off the metal platform? If you do, then you likely feel that we can again bring events such as waterskiing, wakeboarding, triathlons, open-water swimming competitions, competitive rowing and other revenue-generating events to Augusta. I do and, as a former race director, I want to spearhead some of these events.
Did you know that the ESi Ironman rivals the Masters Tournament as a revenue generator for the city? Imagine the money it brings to local businesses in Richmond County. We believe that other such events can be equally successful.
So when other residents and I found that the current permit would allow only 5 percent of the main body of the lake to be dredged, we were very concerned – and as a taxpayer you should be, too. Because permits can take years to be approved, we went to our commissioners and were granted five minutes to make a request. We asked that the scope of the permit be expanded to include all troubled areas of Lake Olmstead as the original tax referendum promised.
But the special interests of property owners who live on Aumond Lake, Heirs Pond, and Rae’s Creek – which have no public access – already spoke to their commissioners. It appeared that the commissioners’ minds were already made up, and our request fell on deaf ears. The permit and the $4 million had been redirected to dredge these private lakes.
The decision to not dredge Lake Olmstead has no effect on our property values. However, it does prevent the public from enjoying the missed recreational and income opportunities that this former jewel of the South could bring.
(The writer is vice-president of the Lakemont Neighborhood Association.)