Augusta leaders vote against Savannah Riverkeeper joining lock and dam lawsuit

Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020
(News 12 at 6 o’clock/ News 12 at 11)

The lock and dam still runs as debates continue on plans for the future. (Source: WRDW)

AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW/WAGT) -- Augusta leaders voted against the Savannah Riverkeeper group joining their lock and dam lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

However, despite the vote, a judge will ultimately decide whether the Riverkeeper is allowed on.

Attorneys working for commission received a request from the Riverkeeper to join the litigation.

Lawyers told Augusta-Richmond County leaders there were three options to discuss from this point: vote in favor of the Riverkeeper joining the suit, neither object nor consent, or vote no and provide a reason.

City leaders voted for option three in a legal meeting today.
Commissioners tell News 12, their reason was that they believe the Riverkeeper is more aligned with the Corps on the issue of the lock and dam. Adding, they believe it would be more appropriate for the Riverkeeper to join the Corps' side.

"We just have to separate ourselves from that," Commissioner John Clarke said in News 12 interview. "So we're going to continue along the way with what we've been doing with South Carolina, and you know, I feel good. I feel we'll end up probably somehow saving what we have."

Commissioners say they are working to save the lock and dam. Arguing, the Savannah Riverkeeper group is not.

The Savannah Riverkeeper countered, the current litigation does not include their interest.

Tonya Bonitatibus told News 12, although commission does have the right to object to the riverkeeper intervening in the lawsuit, it is 'unfortunate'leaders do not want to include the riverkeeper.

Adding, "Our interests are not represented currently by any of the sides. So it is true we do not align completely with the city of Augusta, North Augusta, CORPS or GPA (Georgia Ports Authority)." But, she continued, "We want a compromise solution and we do believe the plaintiff is the right side to be."

News 12 asked Bonitatibus about the seemingly growing distrust the community has. She acknowledged there does seem to be some but argued it is a product of advocacy.

Bonitatibus told News 12, she believes the Riverkeeper is doing what's right for the river and trying to meet in the middle with officials.

"It's unfortunate to have people think and grow mistrust with us but that's part of being an advocate"

According to a note from Augusta's outside law firm, South Carolina leaders also voted against allowing the Riverkeeper to join the lawsuit, citing previous "bad/poor experiences with the Riverkeeper's involvement."

Ultimately, it is now up to the courts to decide if the Riverkeeper group can also be a plaintiff in the lock and dam suit.

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