Originally created 02/21/99

New lock opens water traffic to Augusta



Norman Daniels smiles each time the massive gates swing open, offering boats an opportunity to move back and forth between downtown Augusta and the lower Savannah River.

"This lock is the city's lifeline to the sea," said Mr. Daniels, chief of operations for Augusta Riverwalk Marina. "One of our main objectives is to get more river activity."

The New Savannah Bluff lock, built in 1937 to boost river commerce, is 180 feet long and almost 60 feet wide -- and capable of hoisting the largest barges and yachts to downtown Augusta's river level.

Newly renovated, through $1.5 million in appropriations from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and city of Augusta, the lock operates hydraulically with pressurized oil that opens and closes massive wood and iron gates.

After almost two years of being closed, isolating Augusta's river traffic from the coast, the lock is attracting newfound interest since the city took it over Dec. 8.

"The corps still runs the dam, but we open and close the locks," Mr. Daniels said. "Right now, we're asking people to try to give us 24 hours notice. Later we may try to go to 12 hours."

The lock originally was built to allow barges laden with oil, cotton and timber to navigate the winding channel to Savannah's port. But with the advent of interstate highways, rail and trucking, river commerce died.

The restored lock likely will focus on tourism and will enable Augusta to attract vessels during major events like the Masters Tournament.

"We had 37 requests last year," Mr. Daniels said. "Turned them all down. No way to get upriver from Savannah."

Inquiries filtering in now for this year's Masters include a 100-foot vessel from out of state, he said.

"We expect it to become big business for us," he said. "We had requests during the Olympics, too."

The marina also will become an authorized inland hurricane port, where ships fleeing from coastal storms can seek refuge.

Although the corps no longer removes debris from the Savannah River channel and dredges the river to a uniform depth, the U.S. Coast Guard conducts annual inspections and adjusts markers and buoys accordingly.

"If you're in a big boat, you have to be on your toes, but you can make it back and forth," Mr. Daniels said.

Robert Pavey can be reached at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119, or rpavey@augustachronicle.com.

Anyone wanting to arrange passage through the New Savannah Bluff lock should contact Augusta Riverwalk Marina at (706) 722-1388.