Dredging of silt from the Augusta Canal was halted Thursday over claims by the Army Corps of Engineers that the Augusta Canal Authority failed to secure necessary federal permits.
A "cease and desist" administrative order was issued to halt the project, which has been under way since March 5. Canal Authority Chairman Dick Fox said the order will be obeyed and work has been halted.
Jim Parker, a spokesman for the Corps of Engineers' Savannah District, said any construction performed in a navigable waterway requires prior permitting under the U.S. Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899.
"Dredging is a form of construction," he said. "Without prior approval, it constitutes a violation of that statute, so we've asked them to cease and desist."
The Canal Authority hired contractors to clean and restore the canal from Chafee Park to the Enterprise Mill area in efforts to improve flow, eliminate weeds and prevent erosion and shoreline damage from shoaling currents.
The canal was drained in early March from Lake Olmstead to the downtown area to enable workers to remove hundreds of tons of sediment, most of which has already been dug out and hauled away.
Although the project has been under way almost two months, Mr. Parker said federal authorities just now became aware of the work.
Corps officials will visit the site this week to determine the scope of work already completed.
"We need to look at what they've done and how we want to resolve this," Mr. Parker said. "We've asked them for information about existing and proposed work."
The Canal Authority has 10 days to respond.
"They should have had a permit, and we're advising them of that," Mr. Parker said. "We try to work with violators to get people back into compliance. But we're not going to ask them to re-deposit the sediment."
Mr. Fox said Canal Authority members were unaware a permit was needed for such a project.
"We had no idea there was a need for a permit," he said. "All we're doing is restoring the canal back to design depth."
He said he hopes the matter can be resolved quickly, because the canal is currently drained to accommodate the work, depriving local mills of their primary source of hydropower.
"We'd like to do whatever it takes, and we're happy to do whatever is needed to bring it into compliance," Mr. Fox said. "But in the meantime we have a very narrow window of opportunity to get this job done."
Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119.