Originally created 05/16/02

Ruling will stand on Russell Dam



Georgia and South Carolina will not appeal a judge's ruling to allow Russell Dam's reversible hydropower turbines to spin into commercial operation this summer.

"I think we're done with it," said Buford Mabry, the chief counsel for South Carolina's Department of Natural Resources.

Citing potential fish kills, South Carolina and that state's chapter of the National Wildlife Federation sued the Army Corps of Engineers in 1988 to prevent the units from being built.

The 14-year-old lawsuit, joined later by Georgia, ended last week with a federal judge's conclusion the Corps had proved it could operate the reversible units safely.

"Basically, they have taken the position they can kill millions of fish without there being an adverse impact, and the court has agreed with them," Mr. Mabry said. "Now we'll have to see whether they'll keep their promises."

The Corps, which spent $34 million on environmental testing and fish protection programs, certainly intends to fulfill its commitments, said Corps spokesman Jim Parker.

Those commitments include a $4.5 million oxygenation system in Thurmond Lake that will benefit striped bass, in addition to restrictions on hydropower generation that scientists say will minimize fish kills in the lake headwaters.

"We really believe we've studied this extensively," Mr. Parker said. "We will continue to work with Georgia and South Carolina, as we have throughout this whole process."

Georgia authorities have no plans to appeal the case, either, said assistant fisheries chief John Biagi. "I think we're probably finished with it."

Angela Viney, the executive director of the South Carolina Wildlife Federation, said she would like to appeal but won't.

"At some point we have to put our passions aside and be realistic," she said.

On Wednesday, divers converged at the $618 million hydropower project on the Savannah River to begin inspecting racks and other components of the reversible turbine intakes.

"We're taking a very deliberate process to bring these pumps into operation," Mr. Parker said. "Part of it is that they've sat idle for 14 years, aside from some limited testing."

Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119 or rpavey@augustachronicle.com.

What's next:

Divers will complete inspections of underwater intakes this month, and nocturnal tests of the units will begin within three weeks.