News 12 at 6 o'clock / Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- A historic Augusta landmark will be getting a facelift soon. The Augusta Canal is more than 130 years old, and it's the only canal in the country that still generates power.
The dam that helps divert water to fill the Augusta Canal has more than a few miles on her, and now, it's time for some upgrades.
Former Augusta Commisioner Andy Cheek has been fighting for the renovations since he was on commission.
"The problem is we have a 139-year-old structure that's seen very little in the way of tender loving care over the last century and a third," Cheek said.
The project to fix the diversion dam's growing holes and leaks has been pushed back several times over the last few years, but now, it's time to move forward.
Director of Utilities in Augusta Tom Wiedmeier says, "We have some plans that were done back in 2004, and we'll be updating those plans and probably going to bid the first quarter of next year."
City Administrator Fred Russell says the project won't be cheap.
"Looks like a cost of one and a half to two million dollars at this point," he said.
"One of the reasons it's costly is because we have to do it with the same flow in the river," Wiedmeier said.
Meaning they will have to build smaller dams around the holes to get in there and fix the problem.
"If we don't fix it, we lose the Augusta Canal," Cheek said.
Even though the dam crosses state lines, it only benefits Richmond county, so Augusta will be footing the entire bill.
"That's what we use to pump our raw water, so it's a vital part of our infrastructure," Cheek said.
Commissioners went ahead and approved the project because they say the longer they wait, the larger the holes will get, and the more money they will have to spend to fix it.
"The hole is so large now that a person and now two people can fit up inside the hole," Cheek said.
But the former commissioner isn't taking any chances. Cheek says he's been told this problem would be fixed before, and here we are ... still waiting.
"I was promised they would move on this three years ago by now so I will follow in Ronald Reagan's example and trust and verify."
The city has been waiting on a federal license to build a fish passage in the dam so they could tackle both projects at once.
They claim they've been working to get that license for about 20 years, and since it still hasn't been approved, they're moving forward.