AIKEN -- The federal government should pay property owners for the damage done during the test drawdown of the Savannah River, Aiken County Councilwoman LaWana McKenzie declared Tuesday.
"People are losing property right and left. They've lost docks and land due to the shoreline collapsing," Mrs. McKenzie said.
In a unanimous resolution, the council asked the Army Corps of Engineers not to decommission the New Savannah Lock and Dam and further requested that the government reimburse property owners for their losses as a result of the test. Mrs. McKenzie was particularly concerned about shoreline property in the Beech Island and Jackson areas, but the resolution also noted that the city of North Augusta has spent large sums of money to upgrade its riverfront as an anchor for development to attract tourists to the city.
In addition, Mrs. McKenzie worried that Olympic rowing on the river and rowing events on Langley Pond in Horse Creek Valley would be negatively affected by the closing of the lock and dam.
Members of council took another step toward meeting a state requirement that all agricultural agencies be placed under one roof. At its December meeting, council passed an ordinance authorizing an expenditure of $172,000 for the expansion of the Agricultural Services building to make room for Rural Development Services and the Rural and Community Development agency, placing all agricultural services in the East Richland Avenue facility. At the time, County Administrator Bill Shepherd objected that there was no money in the budget for the job and recommended that the ordinance be tabled. He also recommended that council take another look at the expansion plans before proceeding.
"There is presently zero dollars to do any of this work. For the project to proceed, we have to identify sources for the money," he said at the time.
The ordinance was nevertheless passed and given a public hearing and the second of three votes of approval. Tuesday night, the ordinance itself remained off the agenda, but the council passed a resolution appropriating $15,000 to hire an architect to draw up plans for the expansion.
Councilwoman Kathy Rawls, who has pushed for action on the expansion, came up with an ordinance identifying sources in the current budget to pay for the project. She said she was concerned about meeting the August deadline for the project to be completed.
"I didn't want funding issues to hold things up," she said.
She suggested using the balance of the salary of the internal auditor who resigned earlier last year but has not been replaced and a portion of the funds set aside to remodel county council chambers to pay for the expansion. At the urging of Mr. Shepherd, she agreed to present her proposal as an amendment to the original authorization ordinance when it comes back before the council for a second reading.
In other action, a seven-vote majority elected Mrs. McKenzie council vice chairman, succeeding Councilman Rick Osbon, who served in 1999. Mrs. McKenzie and Councilman Phil Napier abstained.
Reach Pat Willis at (803) 279-6895.
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