It appears there will be a public hearing on Jan. 20 to discuss the problem of the lock and dam. Everyone agrees it would be a tragedy if the water level of the Savannah River is lowered to the point of ruining Riverwalk and lowering the property values of all those riverfront homes.
Because the river is no longer used for commercial traffic, the law says the Army Corps of Engineers may no longer maintain the lock and dam. It has little choice about it. But, because the expenses would run into the millions, neither are Georgia, South Carolina, or Augusta willing to assume the responsibility. What is to be done?
One possibility might be for Augusta to subsidize a river cruise business that would regularly use the lock and dam. Exactly how much traffic is needed for the law to allow the Corps to continue operations? Excursion boats offering sightseeing, lunch or dinner would cost a lot less than maintaining the locks. Subsidized businesses seem to be a popular item around here anyway. Maybe a senator would be interested. If the business prospers, the subsidy might be phased out. Otherwise, it might need to continue in perpetuity. Of course, this solution would have us manipulating the federal government for our own ends, spending a little to get a handout in the millions.
A more responsible solution would be to do something on our own. But what? How about riverboat gambling, as is found in New Orleans, Biloxi and Memphis? One large, modern floating casino would provide more safe, clean jobs and bring in more tourist dollars in one month than the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame ever will. It would give a tremendous boost to the local economy. Augusta would again be a real vacation spot.
The operators of the casino might pay for the operation of the lock and dam as a business expense. Tax revenues from the casino could be used to strengthen our faltering schools and teach our youngsters the evils of gambling. (Of course, that's only if Sen. Charles Walker's program for educational equity would still allow communities to supplement their school budgets, and then destroy the mandatory equality he proposes.)
Don F. Gonella, Ph.D., Martinez