Originally created 09/07/02

Letter blasts Army action



The Army owes property owners a better explanation of its refusal to accept responsibility for damages caused by the experimental drawdown of the Savannah River in January 2000, according to Rep. Charlie Norwood.

"For the Army to conduct an experiment that directly caused millions in damage to civilian, county and city property - and subsequently deny responsibility unequivocally - is appalling to me," Mr. Norwood wrote in a letter this week to Army Torts Branch Chief Joseph Rouse.

Nine claims totaling $1.7 million in damages were filed in the wake of the controversial Jan. 17, 2000, drawdown of the river. As the waters receded, cave-ins along the riverbanks swallowed seawalls and other property.

The draining was an experiment devised by the Army Corps of Engineers to determine potential impacts of removing New Savannah Bluff Dam. A decision was later made to repair the aging dam and have local governments maintain the structure.

The Army Claims Service took more than two years to evaluate the claims, which included $199,000 in repair costs borne by Augusta taxpayers to replace recreation facilities at New Savannah Bluff Park.

In July, the Army issued a simple, terse statement that it would pay nothing.

"If this was the position of the Claims Service all along, why has it taken over two years to respond?" Mr. Norwood wrote - while asking Mr. Rouse to furnish more details about the process by which the claims were evaluated.

Mr. Norwood's spokesman, Lem Smith, said the congressman's office is awaiting a response from the Army.

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