Augusta leader airs financial concerns on lock, dam plans

Published: Oct. 6, 2021 at 7:08 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - We’re hearing from the city of Augusta about plans to replace the New Savannah Bluff lock and dam.

The Savannah Riverkeeper just released the plans last week. They show a totally reimagined riverfront. New gates, a whitewater rafting course, a fish passage are all included.

But now we’re hearing from city leaders who say it’s a nice idea but it’s not realistic.

The lock-and-dam site is the center of yearslong controversy.

We had the chance to ask questions about what needs to be done to bring new life to this area.

“This is not a new design. This is a design that was created by, I would argue, the foremost whitewater expert in the United States,” said Tonya Bonitatibus, executive director for the Savannah Riverkeeper.

The plan includes replacing the lock and dam with 25 crest gates. It seems to check off every box on the list.

“It will allow fish to travel upstream and downstream. It will maintain the pool. It will provide an exceptional recreational venue. It will be cost-effective and it will respect the historic park,” said Bill Sapp of the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The gates would include balloons to automatically rise and lower with the water levels while allowing fish to safely travel. The whitewater area would act as a floodway when water levels get too high.

“This plan looks pretty on paper. There’s still a lot of questions,” said Augusta Commissioner Brandon Garrett, District 8.

Questions like: Who’s paying?

The Savannah Riverkeeper wants the Army Corps of Engineers to throw $65 million to $68 million into the project and the city of Augusta would pay $6 million for the recreational hub.

“When I hear figures like that my first question is where’s the money coming from. We don’t have 6 million extra dollars sitting around,” said Garrett.

This is only a plan for the current lock and dam. The city says the Savannah Riverkeeper does not decide what happens moving forward – that’s between the city of Augusta and the Army Corps of Engineers.

“The Savannah Riverkeeper Group is outside that mediation,” Garrett said.

Garrett says he’s not willing to let the city be an experiment for a concept he doesn’t know works.

“There are people in this city and our communities that depend on the river and this reservoir as a means to provide for their families,” he said.

The Savannah Riverkeeper says it’s planning to hold a public meeting within the next two weeks for people to ask more questions about the new concept.

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