The environmental impact of closing Augusta's New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam continues to foster debate ranging from Augusta and Atlanta to Washington, D.C.
Georgia Natural Resources Commissioner Lonice Barrett, whose agency first sided with the Army Corps of Engineers' plan to decommission the dam, says he is now having second thoughts in the wake of last week's experimental drawdown.
At a minimum, contends the commissioner -- who knows the Augusta area from his years as a Belvedere resident -- there ought to be an environmental impact study before the dam is closed permanently. That was one of the best pieces of news coming out of Augusta Mayor Bob Young's and city Administrator Randy Oliver's trip to Atlanta Monday, aimed at garnering support to block the Corps' decommissioning plan.
We're shocked that the Corps didn't even conduct a thorough enough environmental study of what could happen in the temporary drawdown last week. Had that been done, and the results made public, the test would have drawn more opposition than it did.
Young and Oliver are also getting support from area legislative delegations. But why, with the exception of North Augusta, has so little been heard from affected South Carolina communities?
The Aiken County Council passed a unanimous resolution calling for the federal government to pay for damages to private property owners and urging the Corps not to shut the dam down. Now the Council needs to follow through. Nothing has been heard from the Aiken County legislative delegation, or the town of Jackson which also suffered drawdown damage. If Palmetto State communities bordering the river don't get more involved to save the dam, it could be lost.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., is the most deeply involved federal lawmaker. We'd like to hear more from U.S. Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on the issue. This must be a combined effort from both sides of the river, but so far only one side of the river is doing the heavy lifting.
Augusta's mayor is also leading a delegation to Washington this week, where he'll lobby the federal government and try to build a fire under U.S. Sens. Max Cleland, D-Ga., and Paul Coverdell, R-Ga., to get them more active to save the dam. U.S. Sens. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, D-S.C., and Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., must also realize that verbal support won't be enough.
Our two-state federal lawmakers must pull together to persuade Congress to broaden the lock and dam's original 1937 mission to include more than just serving "commercial shipping." The dam today serves commerce in many other economically constructive ways, even if commercial shipping isn't one of them.
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