Removal of local dam debated

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A decade ago, the Army Corps of Engineers concluded Augusta's New Savannah Bluff Lock & Dam was obsolete and dangerously dilapidated and should be removed.

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No money has been allocated in eight years for repairs to New Savannah Bluff Lock & Dam, and environmental groups want it demolished.  Annette M. Drowlette/Staff
Annette M. Drowlette/Staff
No money has been allocated in eight years for repairs to New Savannah Bluff Lock & Dam, and environmental groups want it demolished.

But it wasn't removed.

Although the concrete structure no longer supported commercial shipping -- the purpose for which it was built in 1937 -- local governments wanted it left intact.

Efforts to save the dam -- and its 13-mile pool of water tapped by industries and cities -- yielded a congressional decree that it be repaired and turned over to local municipalities to maintain.

Since that authorization eight years ago, no money has been allocated for repairs, and environmental groups are renewing hopes the structure can be demolished.

"We haven't pushed it, but we would like to see it taken out," said Frank Carl, the executive director of Savannah Riverkeeper Inc.

He contends the dam is an obstruction to striped bass, American shad and other migratory fish that need to reach ancestral spawning grounds: the shoals above Augusta. Eliminating the weed-choked pool downtown would also improve water quality and aesthetics, he said.

But North Augusta City Administrator Sam Bennett contends it is in everyone's best interest to repair the dam.

"If you look at the way the river looks, and the way it provides water to industrial users, we have built our infrastructure around having the pool in place," he said. "So I don't see removal as an option."

Dr. Carl recalled the corps' well-publicized experimental draw-down of the river in 2000, which was designed to show how the channel would change if the dam were removed.

"That experiment showed an extreme low flow -- a flow that probably wouldn't occur in anyone's lifetime, over 100 years," he said. "In reality, if the dam were gone, the flow would be significantly better than that."

The presence of Thurmond and other dams upstream, he noted, guarantees certain minimum flows in the river, which would protect Augusta from water shortages.

Today more people can appreciate the environmental benefits of removing the dam, he said.

"Immediately after the draw-down experiment, I would have said there is no way the political pressure would allow it to be taken out," Dr. Carl said. "The longer it goes on, I think it becomes more likely it will eventually be dismantled."

Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver believes Congress someday will fund the renovations, but he recognizes the need for a contingency.

"It may very well be time to look at a Plan B, and it would have to be, obviously, on both sides of the river and with both governments working on it," he said. "But to this point there have not been discussions by the local governments with regards to removing the dam."

Augusta's riverfront -- and North Augusta's development plans -- are designed around a full pool in the river that will be supported by funds to renovate New Savannah Bluff.

"But if it looks like the money is never coming through, I would not be opposed to a study to see what would happen," he said. If any decision were made to remove the dam, residents would need a lot of details about what everything would look like, he said. "Aesthetically, a lot of money has been spent on riverfront development. To change the pool would change the aesthetics."

A money matter

North Augusta has established an "enterprise fund" to help maintain the project -- assuming it someday will be repaired and turned over to local interests.

"It's something we are doing with Augusta, Aiken County and local industries," Mr. Bennett said. "Funding in the account will help once we take over the lock and dam maintenance. We have $650,000 in the account right now, and we still anticipate the project will be funded by the corps."

Securing funding involves working with congressional members from both sides of the river.

"We've really tried to engage our delegation so they recognize that this project needs to be brought back to the top of the stack so the corps can secure that federal funding," Mr. Bennett said.

Billy Birdwell, the spokesman for the corps' Savannah district, said Congress authorized the repairs in 2000 but never allocated money.

In 2006, engineering and design funding was approved, and the resulting study concluded renovation would cost $22 million -- far more than the $6.8 million estimated in 2000.

"The price has kept going up, and it will really be up to Congress and local authorities as to how far they will go before they determine it's no longer feasible," Mr. Birdwell said. "We'll request funds, but it will be up to Office of Management and Budget and Congress to decide if the rehab is worth the costs."

A conservation matter

Environmental groups such as American Rivers and The Nature Conservancy, along with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and other government resource agencies, favor removing the dam to restore the Savannah's natural flow and aid fish spawning and migration.

Prescott Brownell, a biologist with the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, said dam removals in other areas have shown benefits.

Removing the dam, he said, would expose polluted mudflats and allow natural currents to cleanse and remove accumulated silt from the channel.

"People have a hard time seeing that right now," he said. "If you drain it, you see old grocery carts and you smell the mud. It's a matter of perception and aesthetics. There's a lot of momentum to do nothing."

Navigability, he said, would be minimally affected.

"You'd be replacing the lake shoreline with a river shoreline," he said. "You'd be able to have people walk down a beach and touch the water instead of looking over a deep bulkhead."

"The way it is now, it's a non-natural situation and a barrier to people as well as a barrier to fish and wildlife," he said. "A natural river is more self-adjusting, and everybody who owns a piece of property would have a more accessible shoreline."

City planners, he noted, are revising a master plan that will guide growth on both sides of the river.

"As the cities begin to look at their best options down the road, they should really consider what it would look like with and without that dam," he said. "The key is to do a careful, long-term analysis."

Reach Rob Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.

TIMELINE

APRIL 26, 1816: Commercial shipping on the Savannah River is born with the launch of the Enterprise, a steamboat owned by businessman Samuel Howard.


1820 TO THE 1850s: As many as 20 commercial steamers travel the river, departing Augusta almost daily with up to 1,000 bales of cotton.


1850s to 1900: River commerce dwindles as railroads haul more cargo and passengers.


1927: Congress authorizes New Savannah Bluff Lock & Dam.


1937: New Savannah Bluff Lock & Dam is dedicated.


1950s: Oil and timber barges use the lock regularly.


1960s: Commerce dwindles and the use of the lock decreases.


1979: In the absence of commercial traffic, the corps ceases all maintenance on the river channel and the lock and dam.


1986: The corps announces plans to close the lock, but Augusta officials want it kept open and agree to renovate and lease the nearby park.


1997: The lock and dam is closed for $1.5 million in repairs.


1999: The lock reopens but is closed months later for more repairs.


2000: A federal study recommends the lock be dismantled and removed, and an experimental draw-down imitating a low-flow 100-year drought is conducted to illustrate how the river might look.


2001: Local governments agree to assume ownership of the project if Congress would finance repairs, estimated at that time to cost $6.8 million, compared with $5.3 million for demolition.


2005: Complete renovations are re-estimated at $22 million, which includes a fish passage. Local governments insist it be repaired at federal expense before they take title.


2006: The corps receives $1.19 million in planning and engineering funds for the renovations but no construction money.


2007: The corps concludes a new study will be needed to recalculate the rising costs.


2008: Congress unveils its fiscal 2009 Civil Works budget with $61 million for the Savannah District that includes Augusta, but -- for the eighth consecutive year -- there is no construction money for New Savannah Bluff.

Comments (22) Add comment
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Uncle Remus
0
Points
Uncle Remus 05/25/08 - 04:39 am
0
0
Tear it down!

Tear it down!

patriciathomas
43
Points
patriciathomas 05/25/08 - 05:35 am
0
0
Repairs are finally complete

Repairs are finally complete from the damage done to buildings near the river when the draw down took place in 2000. With the pool gone, the damage will reoccur. I wonder what other unintended consequences will take place. There will certainly be significant expense involved in reaccessing the river since the shore will move and boat ramps and industry draw lines will be in the wrong place. What will happen to bridge footings and various sea walls (or what ever you call them along the river)? I think removing the pool will change a lot more then flow and access to spawning grounds.

Riverman1
103640
Points
Riverman1 05/25/08 - 06:07 am
0
0
Tearing down the useless

Tearing down the useless levee is a much better idea.

irishgent
22
Points
irishgent 05/25/08 - 06:26 am
0
0
If congress authorizied

If congress authorizied repairs 10 years ago,why hasnt money been appropriated for the repairs.My guess would be that we lost to powerful politicians since then,one from both sides of the river,Thurmond and Norwood.There is a lot of industry on the river with the possibility of more and that creates a lot of tax revenue that could be used to help run the lock.With repairs done fish could still migrate up the river like they have done in the past.Lets get the locks repaired and keep the river like it is.

karmakills123
8
Points
karmakills123 05/25/08 - 07:27 am
0
0
Tear it down...put the river

Tear it down...put the river back to its natural state.....if you want to live on the river....do so under its terms not yours.

egan
0
Points
egan 05/25/08 - 07:52 am
0
0
Sell it to a power company.

Sell it to a power company. It could be rebuilt to produce more power than a bunch of wind generators.

Dixieman
19229
Points
Dixieman 05/25/08 - 08:28 am
0
0
Leave it alone!

Leave it alone! Environmental nut jobs have done this in Maine and in the West with disastrous results. Go save the one-eyed spotted newt somewhere else - Connecticut?

LCC0256
1709
Points
LCC0256 05/25/08 - 08:30 am
0
0
Read carefully what the

Read carefully what the biologist (Prescott Brownwell) said concerning the pool removal. It is logical and truthful. Removing the levee is also part of this plan. As for any "damage" to buildings on the river if someone has the assets and desire to own riverfront property then that person has the ability and responsibility to assume the risks of waterfront ownership. Period. The irony here is that those who are the biggest proponents of "personal accountability" (which all should be at ALL TIMES) sometimes change their tune when this accountability pertains to LARGE assets owned by them. (example subsidized loans for multi-millionaire real estate developers) I am a card carrying conservative who abhors the radical environmental movement's desire to destroy capitialism. However this dam removal is the right thing to do and will benefit all in the near and long term. But look who is lined up opposed to it and you will see Gabriel will be blowing his horn for those of us who will hear before this dam is torn down...

aaa
2
Points
aaa 05/25/08 - 09:01 am
0
0
If the "environmentalists"

If the "environmentalists" support the removal, then you know it must be a very bad idea. They are all a bunch of nuts who sit around all day eating granola bars, smoking pot and watching Ophra on TV. I say leave the dam, jail the environmentalist whackos, and build up the infrastructure around the pool!

Little Lamb
51854
Points
Little Lamb 05/25/08 - 09:09 am
0
0
Little Lamb is not an

Little Lamb is not an "environmentalist," but she supports the removal of this dam. The dam is serving no legitimate governmental purpose, so tear it down.

Tell it like it is
35
Points
Tell it like it is 05/25/08 - 10:21 am
0
0
Lake Thurmond is already 9 ft

Lake Thurmond is already 9 ft below full pool. If increased flow
through the dam is done the lake might as well start farming because it will drop even more. Haven't we learned from past mistakes what opening the dam in 2000 cost the city. Leave it alone or build something that will hold the water at its present level.
Property around Lake Thurmond will be devestated if more flow is allowed through the dam.

Tell it like it is
35
Points
Tell it like it is 05/25/08 - 10:23 am
0
0
Lake Thurmond is already 9 ft

Lake Thurmond is already 9 ft below full pool. If increased flow
through the dam is done the lake might as well start farming because it will drop even more. Haven't we learned from past mistakes what opening the dam in 2000 cost the city. Leave it alone or build something that will hold the water at its present level.
Property around Lake Thurmond will be devestated if more flow is allowed through the dam.

jrbfromga
459
Points
jrbfromga 05/25/08 - 10:54 am
0
0
Augusta thrived for 200 years
Unpublished

Augusta thrived for 200 years without the dam. Take it out! As for the calls to remove the levee, about once every 10-15 years the river is high enough that there would be flooding in downtown without the levee. This is despite the three major dams upstream. The levee needs to stay. We don't need to spend money to remove it, only to spend more money on flood damage or higher flood insurance rates!

crazyoldman
21
Points
crazyoldman 05/25/08 - 11:18 am
0
0
Get rid of it. In 2000 the

Get rid of it. In 2000 the Corps opened the dam wide open and caused all the damage themselves. Draw it down slowly and there wouldn't be hardly any damage. OR Let the tax moneys from them Million and half million dollar houses on the river in North Augusta pay to fix it and keep it up.

Dan Lehr
0
Points
Dan Lehr 05/25/08 - 01:12 pm
0
0
Once again the masses cannot

Once again the masses cannot see beyond the cost. Look at all the events,jobs and building that has been brought in by the locks. Think of all the events and new building that will be lost if this is closed down. We will spend to improve the down town area but the key piece of the plan will be a creek to look at. Once again you cannot see the forest for the trees. This is why this area is headed for a recession that could have been prevented by forward thinking people.

iletuknow
8
Points
iletuknow 05/25/08 - 02:23 pm
0
0
Keep it there. It matches

Keep it there. It matches Augusta perfectly!

getalife
6
Points
getalife 05/25/08 - 02:49 pm
0
0
What does the lock and damn

What does the lock and damn have to do with the lake levels in Clarks Hill??

big dog
1
Points
big dog 05/25/08 - 04:27 pm
0
0
Standing Tall,I think you're

Standing Tall,I think you're wrong about the environmentalists,I don't think they watch Oprah!

patriciathomas
43
Points
patriciathomas 05/25/08 - 07:15 pm
0
0
All of the reasoning for

All of the reasoning for removing the pool determined by the lock and dam hold up for removing the Thurmond Lake Dam. How many of you feel the property owners should be held accountable for the changes that would take place were the dam to be removed? The property damage done by removing the lock and dam would be greater. The current property owners would have the rules changed through no fault of their own. The environmentalists should go suck eggs.

gnx
7
Points
gnx 05/25/08 - 07:20 pm
0
0
Take it out. The only reason

Take it out. The only reason anyone wants to keep it is because they've invested big bucks in their riverfront properties. Seems everyone mentions the draw down back in 2000 but they forget to add that little tidbit about the lack of water release from Clarks Hill at the same time in order to create an extreme low-flow situation. If the lock and dam are removed there will still be regular releases from Clarks Hill to help keep river levels up. They simply won't be at the levels we're accustomed to.

Riverman1
103640
Points
Riverman1 05/25/08 - 08:19 pm
0
0
Augusta has never flooded

Augusta has never flooded with water coming over the levee since the construction of Clark Hill Dam. The levee creates a fishbowl effect downtown and doesn't allow water out if the canal floods and rain is excessive. Read up, folks. Tear down the levee, but keep the dams.

oh man
0
Points
oh man 05/30/08 - 03:07 pm
0
0
riverman1 were you not in

riverman1 were you not in this town back in 89 90.

Riverman1
103640
Points
Riverman1 05/31/08 - 07:51 am
0
0
I was here in 1990 and the

I was here in 1990 and the river did not flow into the city. It was from the canal. The levee creates a fishbowl effect and doesn't allow the water back out into the artificially squeezed river. The levee is positively not needed. I'd be glad to discuss this issue in detail with anyone who PM's me.

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