Originally created 01/26/00

Officials will lobby for dam



ATLANTA -- Augusta's state legislators aim to seek support from local, state and federal lawmakers from both sides of the Savannah River to persuade Washington officials to continue operating the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam.

They reached an agreement Tuesday while meeting with Augusta City Administrator Randy Oliver, Mayor Pro Tem Willie Mays and Lonice Barrett, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were invited but did not attend.

The Corps has concluded that since there is no commercial barge traffic on the river near Augusta, the reason for maintaining the 63-year-old lock and dam has disappeared. So the Corps plans to dismantle the facility unless a sponsor comes forward to make the financial commitment to keep it.

"I think this is one case where the federal government is clearly shirking its responsibility," Mr. Oliver said. "This is something they did and this is something they need to continue to do."

Mr. Barrett said he didn't think the state should operate the lock and dam.

"I don't think the Department of Natural Resources, in my opinion, should be in the business of operating that dam," he said.

Mr. Oliver said the city isn't ready to make such a large commitment. That's why legislators concluded that persuading federal officials would be easier than coming up with the money to run it themselves.

"It would appear to me that the first strategy ought to be to get federal operation," said state Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker, D-Augusta.

Mr. Barrett said the goal should be to persuade the Corps to reclassify the purpose of the dam as recreation instead of facilitating barge traffic. He noted that boating would be restricted and fishing camps would be out of business if the dam is removed and the water level drops by 5 feet.

As chairman of the city's legislative delegation, state Rep. Jack Connell, D-Augusta, agreed to write a letter seeking cooperation of state and federal legislators from Georgia and South Carolina.

Mr. Connell named state Sen. Don Cheeks, D-Augusta, state Rep. Robin Williams, R-Augusta, and Mr. Walker to a committee to coordinate the campaign to lobby the Corps.

Reach Walter Jones at (404) 589-8424.