Originally created 01/19/00

Concerns rise as river water level falls



Richard Carmichael was sleep-ing soundly when a long, metallic clang jolted him awake just after 4 a.m. Tuesday.

The Goodale Landing resident soon joined neighbors roused by the sound, which came from the 1,600-foot bulkhead installed at the condominium complex 18 months ago.

"People were walking around in their night clothes wanting to see what happened," he said. "It was loud."

The seawall separating the development from the Savannah River had moved slightly, and about 500 feet of earth had dropped 2 to 3 feet.

Mr. Carmichael, a board member of the development's homeowners association, isn't sure who will pay to repair the damage, but he's certain it was caused by Monday's drawdown of the Savannah River.

The seawall cost $1 million to install, he said. And the collapsed earth was only inches from a city sewer line. "If that had cracked, then we'd have a real environmental problem," Mr. Carmichael said.

The damage at Goodale Landing -- which followed Monday's destruction of a boat ramp and several picnic shelters at Lock and Dam Park -- brought a chorus of "I told you so's" from opponents of the Army Corps of Engineer's experimental lowering of the river.

"This is a crock," said state Rep. Robin Williams, who unsuccessfully tried to halt the test before it began Sunday.

The Corps, he said, should have known damage would occur. "Do these people actually have any engineers working for them? That's a basic engineering kind of thing."

Congressman Charlie Norwood wrote to Corps officials prior to the test because he said he felt the Corps was unprepared for damages that could occur.

"This absolutely backs up our original concerns," said John Stone, Mr. Norwood's press secretary. "Was all the potential damage from the test considered before the test was conducted? Obviously not."

Corps spokesman Jim Parker, who viewed the river from a helicopter Tuesday, said the Corps is not financially responsible for shoreline damage, regardless of whether it was caused by lowering

of water levels.

The Goodale Landing situation, he added, might have been caused by defective construction work on the seawall. "It appears from our aerial view that whoever did the backfill didn't compact it appropriately," he said.

City officials disagree. "It is my belief we need to hold the Corps of Engineers accountable for all repairs," City Administrator Randy Oliver wrote to Mayor Bob Young in a memo about the property damage.

The drawdown was conducted to enable the Corps to inspect the 63-year-old New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam, which the agency has recommended be closed.

The permanent closing or removal of the dam would lower water levels about 5 feet in downtown Augusta. This week's drawdown was merely an experiment to see how the river would look and flow.

Dave Dlugolenski, director of the Richmond County Emergency Management Agency, said city officials are trying to assess the cost of repairs needed to fix shoreline damage, both on public and private property.

The Corps will begin refilling the river today, and water levels should return to normal by Friday or Saturday.

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