They were dug decades ago to provide clay for brick and pottery - and then abandoned.
Today, the clay-pit ponds along North Augusta's evolving riverfront hold the key to an unlikely alliance between scientists and developers.
"Originally, this was going to be a simple amenity - a lake that was dredged out and cleared," said Turner Simkins, the project director for the Hammond's Ferry mixed-use development that includes the former mining pits.
But Gene Eidson, the president of Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy, had a different vision for the ponds and their jagged shorelines.
"It's really a phenomenal habitat," Dr. Eidson said. "What I envision here, down the road, is a natural area with blooming water lilies, native yellow lotus and more. It will be quite stunning."
The academy, through a partnership with the developers and the city of North Augusta, plans to transform the silt-filled ponds into a constructed wetland that will fulfill many important purposes - including recreation.
"We're going to integrate our work with the existing Greeneway and include trails and access points," he said. "And it will also be a landmark project for urban ecology."
The clay pits are being redesigned to cleanse and filter huge volumes of stormwater that will accompany hundreds of homes and businesses - and a new city hall on Georgia Avenue - that are on the immediate horizon.
Stormwater, which contains everything from motor oil to nitrogen compounds from fertilizers, is a major pollutant that can have a negative impact on the nearby Savannah River, said Tanya Strickland, a stormwater inspector with North Augusta.
"What they had to do was design a system to take stormwater from here to the 13th Street Bridge," she said. "That's a big portion of North Augusta."
The academy has been successful with constructed wetlands that help filter and cleanse treated sewage that once flowed from Augusta's Messerly Wastewater Plant into the Savannah River.
The concept, which has been widely recognized by other institutions, includes the use of planted native grasses and plants that gradually filter pollutants and hasten evaporation.
The Hammond's Ferry project will follow a similar design, although its mission involves treating stormwater and not sewage, Dr. Eidson said, predicting the finished product will be much like the academy's Phinizy Swamp Nature Park in Augusta.
To accommodate the new project, the Hammond's Ferry parent company - Leyland Alliance LLC of New York - culled almost 100 lots from the 850-lot project's master plan, Mr. Simkins said.
"We'll have fewer houses, but now we see it as an opportunity to create an urban nature park," he said, noting that the wooded shorelines and vegetation will offer homeowners an opportunity to enjoy the natural areas.
The constructed wetlands project, costing about $500,000, will be aided by a $184,000 grant from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation. The balance will be borne jointly by the city of North Augusta and the developers.
The concept of designing wetlands to cleanse stormwater and prevent the flow of silt and excess nutrients into the Savannah River is part of a broader scheme to improve water quality all the way to the coast.
The academy already is in the midst of a multiyear study called the Savannah River at Risk, which involves evaluating water quality in the river.
"Everything we do along the river can improve water quality in the river," he said. "This is going to be a model for how things will be done in the future."
Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
TO SEE IT
A series of exhibits describing the Hammond's Ferry "urban ecology" program will be featured during River Days, a two-day public event with house tours, kayak and bicycle demonstrations and refreshments.
WHAT: River Days
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 21 and noon to 5 p.m. Oct. 22
WHERE: Hammond's Ferry subdivision, along the Savannah River in North Augusta, off Alta Vista Avenue
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