Originally created 05/30/97

Scientists ask for more time to evaluate Russell Dam



The Corps of Engineers wants more time to evaluate the barrage of criticism leveled against its draft report detailing environmental impacts of Russell Dam's reversible hydropower turbines.

"We have extended the final report date to June 13, which is about two weeks," said corps spokeswoman Jeanne Hodge. "This is due to the complexity of the report and the volume of comments that were received."

After four years of court-ordered tests - during which 7.9 million fish were killed - the corps issued a draft report in March concluding the turbines could be operated without adverse environmental consequences.

But scientists from South Carolina and Georgia - and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service authorities - disagreed, saying inaccurate data were used.

The corps concluded only 7.5 million fish per year would be killed by the turbines - an insignificant percent of the fish population in the 70,000-acre Thurmond Lake.

But agencies who offered comments on the report questioned the corps' methodology and the accuracy of the figures presented.

"The draft report contains much evidence that fish mortality may actually be considerably higher than projected," wrote David Waller, Georgia's wildlife resources director.

South Carolina went even further, accusing the corps of selecting data favorable to the corps' position, while omitting damaging data gleaned from the tests. "This distortion of data oversteps the bounds of scientific propriety," South Carolina's response said.

Georgia and South Carolina also criticized the corps for omitting data that indicates the reversible units affect water quality in both lakes, and in the Savannah River below Thurmond Dam.

Ms. Hodge said corps scientists are working diligently to respond in writing to each specific complaint from all the agencies. "Each comment must be responded to, and then we have to make appropriate corrections."

Once the revised report is issued, another 45-day review period will be held to enable the agencies to reconsider the data.

South Carolina sued the corps in 1988, winning an injunction barring commercial use of the turbines until a judge agrees they can be used safely. The corps' March report summarized those tests.

South Carolina, meanwhile, is stepping up its campaign to draw public attention to the fish kills and related problems.

In a "special news release" distributed Thursday by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, the department "urges the public to express their concerns regarding this project" to the corps, and their local, state and national elected officials.