Originally created 07/24/99

Canal panel seeks aid for land purchase



A national organization with broad expertise in preserving sensitive natural areas will help the Augusta Canal Authority acquire up to 55 acres along the canal near Interstate 20.

The objective, according to authority members, is to keep commercial development from impacting the wilderness portion of the canal.

The Trust for Public Land, based in San Francisco, has helped acquire, purchase or protect more than 1,500 sensitive or historic areas nationwide, including 11 important sites in Georgia.

The Canal Authority will enter into a partnership with the group and commit up to $5,000 in expenses to initiate appraisals of the land, which is owned by Brandenburg Properties, a San Jose, Calif., development group.

The owners are marketing 54.5 acres along the canal between I-20 and Warren Lake for residential use within a 150-acre development called River Shoals.

The Canal Authority would rather the site not be developed because it adjoins -- and is visible from -- the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area.

"We need to move on this as quickly as possible," Canal Authority Chairman Dick Fox said. "This is a piece of property with a `For Sale' sign on it."

Although the canal authority has no money to buy the land, the Trust for Public Land has expertise in finding ways to buy important properties, said Dayton Sherrouse, the canal authority's executive director.

Kevin Johnson, senior project manager for the Trust for Public Land's Atlanta field office, will be assigned to work with the authority, Mr. Sherrouse said.

The Trust's projects in Georgia include efforts to assemble greenways along sensitive areas in Atlanta, North Georgia and the Ocmulgee River.

The organization also protected 2,000 acres along the Chattooga River and acquired 2,000 acres of seashore along Cumberland Island, now managed by the National Park Service as a wilderness area.

Bill Baron, who manages Augusta-area projects for Brandenburg Properties, has said his company is receptive to proposals for adding the site to the National Heritage Area.

If the acquisition is successful, the authority likely would keep it in its current wilderness state, or perhaps use a portion for an ecology education center in the future, said Jeanie Allen, a canal authority member.

Brandenburg Properties acquired the property from the city of Augusta, which had put the land into surplus in 1987 -- five years before efforts were initiated to devise a master plan for undeveloped areas along the canal.

In 1992, Brandenburg privately approached the then-Augusta City Council about leasing public land between the canal and river for a proposed River Shoals Golf Course. That project was withdrawn after consultants and others involved in preserving the canal recommended undeveloped public land be left intact.

Land acquisitions

Acquired Fort Frederica for preservation after the historic site on St. Simons Island was earmarked for development into a marina and condos.

Acquired Mount Yonah, a popular rock climbing area in North Georgia, and conveyed it to the U.S. Forest Service for protection.

Acquired 2,000 acres of seashore on Cumberland Island for management by the National Park Service as a wilderness area.

Acquired 12 parcels adjacent to or within the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic Site and conveyed the properties to the National Park Service.

Protected more than 2,000 acres along the Chattooga River near Atlanta, much of which was under pressure from resort developers.

Robert Pavey covers environmental issues for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at 868-1222, Ext. 119, or rpavey@augustachronicle.Com.