Originally created 12/22/99

Report calls for closing river's lock



The New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam near Augusta should be dismantled and permanently decommissioned, according to an Army Corps of Engineers study that will be forwarded to Congress for approval.

"This project is 62 years old and exceeds its project life by 12 years," the Corps concluded in a draft disposition report to be released for public comment next week.

The Corps noted that the federal government has spent $6 million on the concrete structure during the past 14 years and that additional needed repairs would cost more than $7 million.

"Subsequently, this project should be taken out of operation and all readily removable features should be dismantled," the study recommends.

The lock and dam 13 miles downstream from Augusta was built in 1937 specifically to aid commercial shipping on the Savannah River. Such commerce ceased in 1979.

Federal law requires projects that no longer meet authorized uses be transferred to nonfederal owners who would assume maintenance costs. Augusta, North Augusta and the states of Georgia and South Carolina all declined.

In the absence of a new owner, the Corps has no choice but to recommend decommissioning and placing the structure in a permanent, inoperable condition, the draft report said.

Such decommissioning would include removing gates, installing a security fence and ceasing maintenance activities.

The decommissioning would eliminate the lake-like river levels in downtown Augusta and make it harder for industries and municipalities to pump water from the river.

Computer models indicate removing the dam's gates would cause water levels to drop 11 feet near the dam, tapering to about a 5-foot drop along downtown Augusta's Riverwalk and marina areas.

The Corps is planning a demonstration drawdown the week of Jan. 16 -- in which the dam's gates will be opened to simulate the project's decommissioning -- to compare actual water level drops with the computer models.

Augusta Mayor Bob Young, who received an advance copy of the report Tuesday, said he intends to ask the Corps to hold a public hearing in Augusta to make sure federal authorities are fully aware of the broad interest in the issue.

He also wants the 30-day public comment period for the draft report to be extended to 60 days. Currently, the Corps will accept comments only through Jan. 23.

Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119.